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Siddhartha Roy

Virginia Tech

“Is my water safe to drink?”

That’s the question Siddhartha Roy, a research scientist at Virginia Tech University, empowers people to answer. Working side by side with community members, he has investigated water quality in the city of Denmark, S.C.; in Chicago; and most famously in Flint, Mich.

Roy was part of the Virginia Tech team that collaborated with Flint residents in 2015 to expose the dangerous levels of lead in their city’s drinking water. Nearly 100,000 people living in Flint were exposed to toxic water after the city switched its water source from Detroit’s Lake Huron to the Flint River as a way to save money. The river was corrosive and it caused lead from pipes and indoor plumbing to seep into the tap.

Faucets spewed brown. Families bathed in bottled water. Children had high levels of lead — a neurotoxin — in their blood. Yet, the community’s cries for help were ignored by the local government. But Roy and his colleagues listened. They helped supply neighborhoods with water testing kits and together they exposed a public health crisis.

The work he and his colleagues have done has been highlighted by the New York Times, CNN, and the PBS NOVA documentary “Poisoned Water.” But as their research shows, Flint is not an isolated incident. In cities across the country, there are still many stories at the intersection of water quality and environmental justice to be uncovered and questions to be answered. Roy is continuing to search for answers to those questions in his role as a research scientist in Virginia Tech’s civil and environmental engineering group, where he helps to steer environmental monitoring and investigations into potential water emergencies.

 Nicholas St. Fleur