Purdue research team tests water from Flint

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WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. (Feb. 2, 2016)-- A team of students at Purdue University have been paying close attention to the water crisis in Flint, Michigan. As Flint residents are sickened by lead in the drinking water, the research team is looking into how bad the crisis there is and if it will get better any time soon.

The team is made up of 11 Purdue students and their leader Dr. Andrew Whelton. Last week, the team presented research to The Indiana Water Works Association Conference.

"We’ve been watching and now we’ve started doing some work associated with lead and other metal fate in plumbing system," Whelton said.

FOX59 gave Whelton's team a bottle of water straight from the tap in Flint. FOX59's Tanae Howard filled the bottle when she was there last week helping deliver clean water to residents. Our water sample is from water flowing from the Detroit water source. Recently, Flint officials switched the source back to Detroit. Purdue's research team says though, the water will likely still have traces of lead. That's because lead is still likely in the pipes and it could take months before residents have normal water again.

Right now, the team is doing work on how pipes react to lead. They're testing various types of pipes including copper and plastic. Whelton also said officials in Flint aren't asking the right kinds of questions.

"Where does this lead go? Does it sit on pipes? Does it continue into drinking water taps?," Whelton said.

The answers to those questions aren't clear right now, but it's part of the research Whelton's team is doing.

"What we’re doing is we’re trying to figure out if you have contamination in copper pipes and plastic pipes, how long does it really take to clean it out?," he said.

Whelton said the factors could vary between each home or business in Flint. Those factors include the size of residents water heaters, the flow of water, how hot the water is, and the specific chemicals flowing through it. He said the State of Michigan has essentially dropped the ball when it comes to giving residents advice on what to do and that officials aren't using science.

"In Flint, you saw a complete failure of basic water treatment chemistry professionals. You saw state officials not understand the consequences of what they were doing or not doing and then you saw the federal officials basically turn the other way and not step in to the help the people who are being harmed." Whelton added,"when large scale contamination events occur, local communities, state communities, and even the federal agencies that are providing the input don't actually understand what decisions they have to make."

He says the discussions about what happened in Flint and what's to come could go on for a long time.

"This will be happening for awhile until utilities and states get a handle on how to respond faster and stop instances from occurring," Whelton said.