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Minimal lead exposure detected in campus water

by Kristina Livingston - Managing Editor
Tue, Dec 6th 2016 09:00 pm

 In response to the ongoing contaminated water crisis in Flint, Michigan, and nationwide concerns over water quality, the Department of Environmental Health and Safety at The College at Brockport has conducted lead-level tests on each water structure on campus, including water fountains and sinks.

With approximately 300 samples collected over mid-semester break, all have since been processed and several indicated a need for replacement. 

Indication for concern is based on the presence of lead levels at or above 15 parts per billion, what Director of Environmental Health and Safety Chris Bazzie calls "the EPA action limit," the amount being nontoxic but a warning sign for the future as dictated by the United States Environmental Protection Agency. According to Bazzie, conducting the widespread test was driven by the campus' age. 

"Of the 300 and some samples that we took, there were 19 individual fixtures that were above the EPA's action limit," Bazzie said. "We know that our supply coming in [Monroe County Water Authority] is good; where we have issues is really because of the fixtures, which are around 50 years old or so."

Of the 19 structures identified, multiple were located in Drake Memorial Library, Cooper Hall and Tuttle South Gymnasium. Most of these were also identified as being rarely used and notably aged. Water safety has long been a primary health concern in New York state, despite lead exposure becoming increasingly less prevalent over time. 

Director of Hazen Center for Integrated Care Elizabeth S. Caruso has been a frontrunner in ensuring the college has access to lead-free, nontoxic water, as well as answering students' questions about their exposure to potential risks.

"The lead levels in Flint were in the thousands, and our worst was around 150 in an unused sink," Caruso said. "Our levels are so minimal in comparison. If you walk by and take a drink a couple of times a week, it's probably not going to be an issue."

According to Caruso, the test findings do not indicate reason to be alarmed, nor do they suggest a need for the tests to be replicated throughout the SUNY system.

"My instruction would be for facilities departments to assess their infrastructure first, which is where we started," Bazzie said. "To go from there, say, 'OK, do we have things that we think could potentially be putting lead into our water supply?' And if the answer to that is 'yes,' then they might want to consider looking into it a little bit more."

Bazzie notes that many SUNY campuses are relatively new and may not require thorough evaluation of both pipes and individual structures.

The Department of Environmental Health and Safety was forced to delay their testing process due to the high frequency of use for most campus water structures, and chose to carry out the tests over mid-semester break in October 2016 because the outcome would prove the most accurate. 

The more a structure is used throughout the day, the less contaminant is present, providing researchers with a filtered sample unrepresentative of the lead levels present. The 19 structures with levels above the EPA action limit have been shut down since being identified as problematic and are scheduled to be replaced in the coming months.

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