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Cincinnati Brains Behind Solving Lead, Algal issues

Ann Thompson
(from left) Cincinnati EPA Branch Chief Water Division Darren Lytle and U.S. EPA top water official Joel Beauvais examine a home plumbing system Lytle built to study lead toxins.

Key discoveries made by Cincinnati EPA scientists are helping solve lead contaminated water issues across the country and better predict when harmful algal blooms might threaten drinking water.

The nation's top water official, Deputy Assistant Administrator for Water at the U.S. EPA, Joel Beauvais, got a first hand look at the research when he was in Cincinnati May 17 and 18, 2016. When talking about lead and algal blooms he said, "We're very focused on supporting state and local authorities and utilities in addressing these challenges and a lot of the work that we bring to bear is based on our scientific research. We've got some of the preeminent experts at EPA and many of them are based at the Cincinnati office."

Lead  Contaminated Drinking Water

Based on the research of Darren Lytle,branch chief of the water division who has built a home plumbing system in a Cincinnati EPA lab, this month Flint, Michigan put a new protocol into place, "Flush for Flint," urges residents to flush their pipes by running water in the bathtub and kitchen sink. Lytle studied flow patterns in lead pipes and determined it helps to regularly run water through the pipes to get rid of contaminants.

Separately, senior EPA engineer Tom Speth  constructed a mini model to study how different water qualities affect lead corrosion in Flint. It uses actual pipes from the system to run water through it. He says, "The goal is to run different types of treated water through it so you can see what's the best water  to then send to the consumers."

Credit Ann Thompson / WVXU
(near) Cincinnati EPA scientist Jonathon Pressman and UC student Matt Kelley study if carbon offers significant protection if an algal bloom releases its toxins near a water intake.

Algal Blooms

The EPA and Cincinnati Water Works hope to avoid another Ohio River algal bloom. The toxins stretched 700 miles last summer from West Virginia to Indiana. Researchers like Jonathan Pressman at the Cincinnati EPA are looking at ways to prevent it from getting into the water supply, including the effectiveness of carbon.

While standing in front of a lab experiment that uses carbon he said, "Utilities like Cincinnati that use carbon for natural organic matter removal, what happens if they then have an algal toxin problem, but that carbon is partially exhausted with organic matter, does the carbon still work for removing the algal toxins?"

In addition, EPA scientists are developing a mobile application using remote sensing data to better predict when harmful algal blooms might threaten source drinking water at the intake. They are also trying to determine how to better use air surveillance.

Ann Thompson has decades of journalism experience in the Greater Cincinnati market and brings a wealth of knowledge and expertise to her reporting.