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#CrowdCloudLIVE After each episode's WORLD premiere in April, show host, producer, and people seen on the show participated in post-premiere roundtable discussions. Viewers like you listened in, asked questions, and were able to dive deeper into the power of Citizen Science.

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Philly Unleaded: Citizens + Scientists, United
Parents Testing for Lead
Q&A with Jonathan King

My name is Jonathan King, I’m the co-founder of the citizen science group called Philly Unleaded. We help people test their water at home for lead contamination.

How did Philly Unleaded get started?

There was an article in "The Guardian" about the Philadelphia Water Department, their testing procedures, and how they were not following the latest recommendations from the EPA. I was concerned, and a number of parents were concerned. I'm on a Facebook group of people who care about the city and want to do things the right way, Tony Spagnoli included.

Co-founder of Philly Unleaded, Tony Spagnoli, goes under his house to look for lead service lines.

We were looking for how do we test our own water, the water that we're giving to our children. We couldn't figure it out. There are tests on Amazon, but they're not highly rated.

I’m just the type of person that would call Marc Edwards at Virginia Tech and ask him, "How would I test my water?" He was a great guy, he said, "If you get a number of people in Philadelphia we'll test everybody's water and see what's going on there. We'll do it at cost." Tony and I set up a website saying, "Hey, we're doing this thing. If you want to sign up, sign up." A bunch of people signed up. A couple of other organizations got involved, including Penn Environment and Witnesses for Hunger. We were able to coordinate with that. We were able to buy the test kits, and now we're giving them out.

Who is testing their water, can anyone sign up for a test kit?

At the Philly Unleaded Project, our goal is to help families. Anyone who wants to sign up anywhere in the city of Philadelphia, if you want to test your water, we will help you test your water. We'll just give you a kit and help you get that kit to Virginia Tech and find out about the water in your home, what you're giving to your children. We have other people stepping up to help out people who can't afford to pay for the kit.

The Water Department is under an obligation to find a certain number of Tier One homes. (See the Summary of the Lead and Copper Rule for definitions and more information.) We can get into whether or not they're actually fulfilling that obligation. For us, we're trying to get as many test kits to as many places as possible and, at the same time, trying to help people test their service line to see if it's made of lead. Hopefully we'll get enough Tier One homes in our sample, that it will be enough to meet the federal guidelines that the Philadelphia Water Department is required to follow, the Lead and Copper rule.

Jonathan King looks for lead pipes.

But I can't stress enough that is not our obligation. We are citizens. We are volunteers. We are finding people who are concerned about their family and their family's health. And we are getting the best testing procedure available into their hands so that they can test their family’s water. If we don't get enough Tier One homes, if we don't find enough homes with enough lead service lines, we're still doing a tremendous amount of good. We're doing the best we can.

What’s different about your study compared to what the Philadelphia Water Department has been doing?

The latest recommendations from the EPA are do not remove the aerator from a tap. Do not pre-flush your water, and open the tap all the way as if you were filling a pitcher of water. When the Philadelphia Water Department does their tests, they advise people to take out the aerator, which can reduce your lead levels. (C&C: In part as a result of national and local media attention, and community pressure, PWD has subsequently revised its testing guidelines to conform to EPA’s best practises.) They advise people to pre-flush, which can reduce your lead levels. They send out bottles with very small openings so that you don't open the water all the way. That can reduce lead levels.

Are they hoping to not uncover a problem? I don't know. Their official line is, "Well, we've been doing it this way and we don't want to change testing procedures" They’d say the data wouldn't be as good anymore. But they should not be testing what are the lead levels over time. They should be testing whether there is a problem with lead in the city of Philadelphia right now. If you talk to experts they'll probably say that they should be following the latest recommendations to see what is the exact lead level, or the best available evidence of how much lead people have in their homes.

The King family is happy their home is lead-free.

What are you hoping to achieve with the study?

My hope, obviously, is that we test hundreds of homes and find out that there's no problem at all. Then we can move on to other public health concerns or our lives. That would be ideal. My dream is so high. I want people to say, "This is our water. It has a neurotoxin in it that's harmful to my children. When I open up my tap, if my water is not clean and safe, I want the city to remedy the problem."

Here's another issue. If there's lead in the water the Water Department says, "If it's from your service line, it's your responsibility to fix it." I don't think people realize that. When they drink their water, they think it's clean and safe. They think if it's not safe that someone is looking into it and fixing the problem. But that is not true. I would like the city to identify where these lead service lines are, and replace them. If they need to send us all bills at the end of it, that's fine. But there needs to be a massive program to fix these harmful environmental problems that threaten our families.

Has your advocacy already achieved some attention?

They found out that we were doing our own testing and now, all of a sudden, they're reacting and changing the way they're testing. They're testing earlier and using some or most of the latest recommendations. But I can't stress this enough: our concern is very different than theirs. The Lead and Copper rule is set up so that they have to make sure over 90 percent of homes in the city have safe water. For us, we're very concerned about our water, about our family, and if we're part of the 10 percent that’s not safe, we want to find out where that is and fix it. That's a very different concern than they have. We as parents, as citizens, need to find out what is going on in our home. Is there a problem, and how do we fix it? (C&C: As Waleed states in program 2, a $30, NSF-certified filter, if properly installed and maintained, can substantially cut back on the risks of lead in drinking water.)