Would You Like Some Water with Your Lead?

Southern Oregon University (SOU) has found lead in water in five separate buildings on their campus. The fixtures where the lead count was higher than the EPA minimum allowed have since been replaced.

Greensprings residence halls, the Student Health and Wellness Center, the Music building, the Education-Psychology building and the Cox Hall had high levels of lead from test that were conducted in July. Both water fountains and faucets in these buildings were contaminated.

SOU Manager of Environmental Health and Safety Russell Deen conducted extensive tests on fixtures in more than 100 SOU owned buildings.

Greensprings building was built in 1969 and had one drinking fountain that had twice the amount of the EPA limit of 15 parts per billion. Also, a kitchen faucet contained 29.9 parts per billion of lead. Since the discovery of both lead contaminated fixtures, they have both been replaced.

Another drinking fountain was removed from the Music building, built in 1972, after tests showed it having lead levels of 41.1 parts per billion. The fountain in the Music building has since been replaced.

The university removed a fountain from the basement area of the 1958-biult Cox Hall. This fountain was in the range of 24.5 parts per billion for lead testing. The basement area is not used very often, but it still was a hazard for students, faculty, and visitors.

Two faucets have also been removed from the Education-Psychology Building as well. Yet, the replacement faucets have still not been tested for lead contamination.

The goal of SOU is to have all drinking fountains and faucets in compliance before the Fall term starts. SOU decided to start testing for water after tests were conducted in Flint, Michigan which resulted lead levels in the hundreds and thousands part per billion.

The full results of SOU’s lead testing can be found here www.sou.edu/ehs

U.S. Health officials estimate that nearly 900,000 people each year become sick from waterborne diseases and 900 possibly die. Lead in drinking water is the number one culprit of waterborne sicknesses. Lead is also considered the number one health risk to children. Lead has been shown to stunt a child’s growth, damage the nervous system, and can cause learning disabilities.

Lead is often found in water pipe lines and brass fixtures. It is also found in water faucets because lead is added to metal alloys such as brass and bronze. With older buildings with old pipes and water faucets, lead can get into the drinking water easily. The amount of lead corroded from metal plumbing increases when corrosivity increases. Water corrosivity is controlled by the waters pH balance. Other factors that influence water corrosivity is whether it is soft water or hard water. Soft water is more corrosive than hard water and warm water is more corrosive than cold water. The corrosive water dissolves lead from the pipes while in contact with the faucet or plumbing and carriers it to its destination. Lead water is in its highest concertation as soon as it leaves the faucet.

If SOU wants to completely eliminate any chance of lead in the water system, it will need a complete overhaul of its water system to remove lead pipes, lead solders, and brass fixtures.