Once she’s finished testing Tethys, Gitanjali hopes to make the device widely available. That way anyone worried about water quality can test for lead. Sadly, Flint isn’t the only place in the U.S. at risk from lead-contaminated water because of aging lead pipes and fixtures.
In 2016, the Natural Resources Defense Council found that more than 5,300 municipal water systems, which supply water to 18 million Americans, violated federal rules for lead testing of drinking water. Those violations included high lead levels, improper monitoring, failure to report test results, and failure to address pipe corrosion. An investigation by the news organization Reuters the following year found more than 3,800 U.S. communities whose rates of childhood lead poisoning were double that of Flint at the peak of its crisis.
A device like Tethys could help people check the safety of their water. And pooling results from many home tests could help identify the places in most urgent need of help, says Gitanjali. Shafer, her project mentor, couldn’t be more proud: “Gitanjali’s work is a powerful example of the role of science in developing solutions that can improve our world.”