More Campus Buildings Found to Have Lead in Water

The University reported last week it had found lead in the drinking water in five additional buildings on campus, including in two residence halls.

The UNC Department of Environment, Health and Safety found lead in the drinking water in Spencer and Stacy residence halls — the first reported incidence of lead in dorms at UNC.

Detectable levels of lead were also found in the water in Battle Hall, which houses African, African American and diaspora studies; in Hill Hall, which is occupied by the department of music; and in the Henry Owl Building, formerly the Carr Building, which houses Student Affairs and was recently renamed to honor the first student of color to attend UNC.

None of the lead levels exceeded 15 parts per billion, a threshold at which the Environmental Protection Agency requires public water systems to take action to remedy the situation. Some water fixtures in the five buildings ranged from 1.1 ppb to 6.4 ppb.

On Sept. 1, the office of environment reported it had found detectable levels of lead in three drinking fountains in Wilson Library, including the two historic fountains on the third floor and another drinking fountain on the second floor. Testing showed levels between 2.0 ppb and 185 ppb. Later that month, University officials found lead in 21 drinking fountains and 14 sinks in seven other buildings, including Fordham Hall, Hamilton Hall, Manning Hall, Phillips Hall, South Building, Carrington Hall and Isaac M. Taylor Hall, the University reported.

Spencer Residence Hall was built in 1924 and has communal restrooms and showers with sinks in each room. Test results from Spencer showed detectable levels of lead in nearly 60 sinks and in three drinking fountains.

Stacy Residence Hall was built in 1938 and also has communal restrooms and showers but no individual sinks in rooms.

“For buildings where drinking fountains are being replaced, water coolers will be provided in buildings where out-of-service drinking fountains are the only accessible drinking fixtures,” UNC media relations manager Erin Spandorf told The News & Observer in an email.

The University is providing health testing for lead for faculty, staff and students who work or study in the affected buildings.

Health and safety experts told UNC faculty on Oct. 7 they had begun to test campus water fixtures for lead. The lead contamination is due to corrosion in plumbing components or solders in fixtures that allow lead to seep into the water, according to Environmental, Health and Safety officials.

EHS Director Cathy Brennan said during phase two, officials will test fixtures with the most likelihood of containing lead — those in buildings constructed in 1930 or earlier. In phase three, officials will test fixtures in buildings constructed between 1931 and 1990.

During testing, EHS removes the water fixtures from service and posts warning signs. If any detectable levels of lead are found, the fixture is removed regardless of the level. “There is no safe level of lead,” Rebecca Fry, director of the Institute for Environmental Health Solutions, told The Well. Fry is also the Gillings School of Public Health faculty expert advising officials on the mitigation process.

The University is providing alternate water sources in buildings where fountains are removed, and information is being provided through the EHS website, which also provides test results for each building.


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