Finding the Cracks in U.S. Water Safety
These hose bibs were used in the Virginia Tech study.
Credit: Marc Edwards, Virginia Tech

This ScienceLives article was provided to LiveScience in partnership with the National Science Foundation.

Environmental engineer Marc Edwards, of Virginia Tech University, has spent decades hunting for overlooked safety gaps in the United States water supply, from the source, to the pipes, to the tap. While the United States generally benefits from high standards for drinking water, and most Americans can trust that clean water comes from their taps, closer inspection is showing that on a house-by-house basis water quality is not guaranteed. Even well-known substances, like lead, can emerge from a tap unbeknownst to a homeowner, even in communities with high marks for water safety. Edwards is one of the leading researchers looking more carefully at the water we drink and finding new ways to ensure that hazards are not only found, but also fixed. To read more about his work on lead in drinking water, read the press releases Your Tap Water: Will That Be Leaded or Unleaded? and The Ones That Get Away. For more on his recent work and a video interview, see the Behind the Scenes feature Much of U.S. Water Safe, But Problems Remain, and for his responses to the ScienceLives 10 Questions, see below.

Name:  Marc Edwards
Age: 45
Institution: Virginia Tech
Field of Study: Environmental Engineering and Bio-Physics

What inspired you to choose this field of study?
The opportunity to apply science and to help large numbers of people.

What is the best piece of advice you ever received?

What was your first scientific experiment as a child?
Growing sunflowers from seed in kindergarten, to quantify effects of light, water and fertilizer on plant growth.

What is your favorite thing about being a researcher?
Freedom. And the high-quality people I work with on a day-to-day basis.

What is the most important characteristic a researcher must demonstrate in order to be an effective researcher?
Persistence. Curiosity. Empathy.

What are the societal benefits of your research?
Our results provide answers to key practical questions that people have regarding their home water systems, can improve the taste and safety of water, and reduce the very high costs of corrosion to consumers. 

Who has had the most influence on your thinking as a researcher?
Dr. Yanna Lambrinidou, a colleague who specializes in medical anthropolog; Michael Schock at the USEPA; my students; and of course, my Ph.D. advisor Dr. Mark Benjamin.    

What about your field or being a researcher do you think would surprise people the most?
How much fun all this hard work can be.

If you could only rescue one thing from your burning office or lab, what would it be?
Assuming my students take care of themselves, my Archer Fish (Toxotidae) from my office aquarium.

What music do you play most often in your lab or car?
Green Day; classic 1980's rock.

Editor's Note: This research was supported by the National Science Foundation (NSF), the federal agency charged with funding basic research and education across all fields of science and engineering. Any opinions, findings, and conclusions or recommendations expressed in this material are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of the National Science Foundation. See the ScienceLives archive.