LSU Health New Orleans Newsroom

How well do certified filters remove lead from drinking water under normal use?

Testing in high risk areas this summer aims to find out

child drinking water from faucet at kitchen sink

Adrienne Katner, DEnv, Assistant Professor of Environmental and Occupational Health at LSU Health New Orleans School of Public Health, is leading a project to test the ability of water filters to remove lead from drinking water under normal use conditions in New Orleans. Currently, for a water filter to be certified for lead, it must pass tests only under controlled laboratory conditions. Dr. Katner and colleagues from Virginia Tech have been funded by the US Department of Housing and Urban Development to test filters in the field -- in actual use.

“We’re also testing the filters under atypical conditions like in the presence of high iron, manganese and/or lead,” says Dr. Katner.

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This summer, the team is setting up rigs designed by Jeannie Purchase, MS, a doctoral engineering student at Virginia Tech mentored by Dr. Marc Edwards and Dr. Kelsey Pieper.

“The rigs are designed to test filters past their lifetimes,” Katner explains. “Due to the risk this might pose to home occupants, rig testing is only being conducted in unoccupied homes.”

water filter testing rig
Community Outreach,Testing Water in Homes

As well, water filters are being tested in occupied homes. They are targeting homes that are at high risk for having lead in their drinking water and poor water quality.

“Lead in drinking water is typically associated with the presence of lead service lines which can be found in older homes built prior to 1986, the year when lead service lines were banned,” notes Katner.

In Louisiana, the research partners are distributing water filters to residents throughout New Orleans and Enterprise in the northern part of the state, as well as Macon County, North Carolina.

LSU Health and VA Tech students pose for a photo during a break in field testing in New Orleans

On a recent weekend, Katner, along with LSU Health Public Health researcher Aubrey Gilliland, MPH, and Jeannie Purchase visited New Orleans homes to install and test the easiest to use and best performing water filters (as identified by Virginia Tech under laboratory conditions) in high-risk occupied homes.

Dr. Adrienne Katner with students during rig construction for field testing in New Orleans
“We are also surveying residents about their knowledge of lead and water filters and about barriers they’ve encountered that might prevent them from adopting and appropriately maintaining water filters,” adds Katner.

Project partners also include co-PI Dr. Kelsey Pieper, formerly of Virginia Tech and now at Northeastern University; Dr. Susanne Straif-Bourgeois of LSU Health New Orleans School of Public Health’s Epidemiology Program; community partners Beth Butler and Marie Hurt of A Community Voice (ACV) and Southern United Neighborhoods (SUN), who are overseeing community outreach in New Orleans and among non-English speaking Latin American and Hispanic communities; Wilma Subra, Mary Lee and Michael Orr of Louisiana Environmental Action Network (LEAN), who will be overseeing community outreach in Enterprise and in other rural areas of Louisiana with drinking water quality issues; and Kyle Jennings of the Macon County Public Health in North Carolina (NC), who will be overseeing outreach to private well owners in rural NC.

“The results of this project will be used to inform health officials on the efficacy of water filters to reduce lead exposures under varying water quality and filter use conditions,” Katner concludes. “Results will also shed light on approaches for overcoming knowledge, behavior and access barriers to water filter adoption in hard to reach rural and non-English speaking communities.”