Engineers Use Smartphones to Detect Lead in Drinking Water | AIChE

Engineers Use Smartphones to Detect Lead in Drinking Water


In January 2016, the federal government declared a state of emergency after engineers at Virginia Tech reported that 40% of homes in Flint, MI, had elevated levels of lead in their water. City officials had dismissed earlier complaints about the issue, and Flint residents drank, cooked, and bathed in contaminated water for months. Later lawsuits found that state and city officials had failed to treat Flint water with the necessary anti-corrosion agents, in direct violation of federal law.

Lead poisoning has recently become a national concern as aging water pipes continue to endanger citizens, particularly pregnant women and children. Common symptoms of exposure in children include seizures, developmental delays, and birth defects.

In an attempt to spread awareness about lead contamination, engineers at the Univ. of Houston (UH) have developed an inexpensive system that uses a smartphone to detect low concentrations of lead in drinking water.

“This is an issue that affects everyone,” says Wei-Chuan Shih, an engineer at UH. “Everyone drinks water, and everyone can use this technology to ask questions about their environment. This is an opportunity to educate society not only about lead contamination, but also about how we can use modern technology to address major societal failures.”

Lead testing kits are available online, but they can be difficult to use, according to UH...

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