Lead contaminating water in several campus buildings

LeadinWaterbyRichardThe Mount Allison University administration is advising students and staff to run water until it is cold after test results have shown lead contamination in the water sources of a number of campus buildings.

Facilities Management at Mt. A recently revealed that several buildings on campus have elevated levels of lead in some water sources.

An email circulated to staff, students and faculty on Jan. 17 told the university community that “In Fall 2013, Facilities Management tested water in ten buildings on campus and discovered elevated levels of lead in some samples.” The email stated that corrective action had been taken, and that advisory signage had been posted in Flemington.

The email stated further testing was done in Crabtree and Flemington later in the Fall, also revealing high levels of lead. The email said the departments within the Crabtree and Flemington buildings had been made aware of the issue the day before.

Mt. A’s Vice-President Administration David Stewart told The Argosy that Facilities Management began testing the water of eight campus buildings in September and October. These buildings include: The Athletic Centre, the Library, Hart Hall, Bennett House, Edwards House, Harper Hall, Thornton House, and Windsor Hall.

Following the tests in September and October, Stewart said three backflow preventers in the Library, Windsor, and Bennett were identified as having elevated lead content. Three custodial sinks in the Library and Windsor, and laundry sink in Bennett house also had elevated levels of lead.

Stewart said the Crabtree and Flemington buildings were tested in early December, after an individual requested testing in Flemington.  Stewart declined to identify the individual who made the request.

Elevated levels of lead were found in all six locations tested in those buildings in early December.

“Then, because of the results of those tests, we did extensive testing in those two buildings at the end of December,” Stewart said.

Stewart said that advisory signage had been posted in the Flemington building following the first round of testing in December, given the high number of locations with elevated lead, and the biology department was informed of the situation. Signs were also posted in the washrooms advising people not to drink water in the building.

The extensive testing in late December found elevated levels of lead in eleven locations of the Crabtree building on the first draw, and no levels of lead in any on the second draw. The second draw is taken after running the water for five minutes.

Sixteen locations in Flemington were identified as having elevated levels of lead on the first draw. On the second draw, four locations still had unsafe levels of lead contamination.

Stewart said he believes lead is getting into the water from the fixtures and fittings. He said there is no provincial standard for fixtures and fittings, and that the university is will deal with the issue by replacing them and following up with additional testing. Stewart added the two water fountains in the Flemington building would be replaced.

But not everyone was satisfied with the university’s handling of the issue.

“I think that this indicates a very poor way of handling what could be a very serious situation,“ said Dave Thomas, a political science professor who teaches in the Crabtree building.

“The very first moment there was reason to be concerned, a public announcement should have been issued to the university community […] indicating exactly where the problem is, the nature of the problem, and warning people not to drink the water in that building,” Thomas said.

“It’s an update and public service announcement that should have come a long time ago.”

Stewart said that he feels the university handled the situation appropriately, by informing department heads in the buildings concerned and posting advisory signage.

“There was no delay. It’s just a matter of analyzing the results, and deciding what we were going to do to handle it, and getting the messages out,” Stewart said. “The readings didn’t indicate there was any urgency about the matter, but in any event we did it as quickly as one could reasonably do it.”

Thomas was also critical of the university for what he considers inadequate signage, noting that the signs merely indicated that the fountain signs were temporarily out of service, with no indication of what the issue was.

The Jan. 17 email suggested “Both on and off campus, it is good practice to run water until it is cold before you drink it. The merit of this practice is demonstrated by our test results, which in most cases showed that elevated levels of lead were eliminated after the water was run for several minutes.”

Thomas said this statement was “indicative of the larger tone and content of the email.” He feels it implied that it an individual could be at fault for not knowing to run the water for an extended period before drinking. “They’re now trying to figure out ways to absolve themselves from any kind of responsibility here.”

“It doesn’t even actually say if you shouldn’t drink the water in Flemington and Crabtree,” Thomas said, referring to the facilities management email, adding that the information from the University left unanswered questions about the severity of the problem.

Leigh Manley, a second-year student in Campbell Hall who serves as Academic Mentor, said she and many students in her residence felt the announcement from facilities management was unclear. “It’s definitely raising concerns in our residence,” she said.

After a number of students approached her with concerns about the water safety in Campbell, Manley emailed Facilities Management. The response said that testing had been done in all residences except Campbell, and that samples would be taken from Campbell in the next batch of tests. Again, students were advised to run the water until cold before drinking.

Manley was not entirely satisfied with the response: “I thought it was definitely too vague,” she said. The reply from facilities management did not say when exactly Campbell Hall would be tested.

Manley added that she was mainly concerned with the potential health repercussions.

Stewart said the university would continue testing other buildings on campus. “As soon as we identify an issue, we’ll deal with it.”

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