Water Restrictions Lifted; Campus Standards Raised

Staff and students in three campus buildings that were found to have unacceptable lead levels in their water in March and April were notified in early June that testing is complete, water use is unrestricted and that no elevated lead levels were present in the test results.

Water restrictions were lifted in late May for Caudill Labs, Chapman Hall and the Information Technology Services building. The Campus Y’s restrictions were lifted earlier.

In Chapman and Caudill, officials had isolated pumps from the water system that needed to be reincorporated and then tested before water use could go unrestricted.

The source of the problem in all four buildings – three of them new and the Campus Y completely renovated – was found to be lead leaching from brass fixtures, such as water faucets.

It is not unusual to see elevated lead levels in new buildings because of inadequate federal and state standards for brass fixtures, said Marc Edwards, a professor of civil and environmental engineering at Virginia Tech who led the University’s investigation of the issue.

According to the federal and state standards, brass fixtures, containing zinc, copper and lead, can contain up to 8 percent lead.

In a letter dated May 10, Raymond Hackney, UNC interim director of environment, health and safety, wrote that UNC is changing its new and future construction specifications to require plumbing fixtures to contain no more than 0.2 percent, as recommended by Edwards, a national expert in the study of water management.

“We made these changes to avoid it from happening in the future,” Hackney said. “It may have been happening not only here but in other places, undetected.”

In memos to the occupants of Chapman and Caudill, Carolyn Elfland ’69, associate vice chancellor for campus services, wrote that the procedure for lowering the lead levels included flushing the buildings’ systems, testing the water from a representative sample of the water in dispensing devices intended for human consumption such as drinking fountains and sink faucets, and testing every device in the building. Over time, water naturally forms a protective layer on pipes that prevents lead leaching, so the problem was fixed by running water through the fixtures.

The elevated lead levels were discovered when students and faculty complained about the odor and taste of the water in Caudill Labs and Chapman Hall.

Testing found that 14 samples taken from the main water service line into Chapman and Caudill had six times the amount of lead considered dangerous for drinking water.

Water in the two fountains at the Campus Y indicated lead levels of 0.015 mg/L and 0.098 mg/L, while the Environmental Protection Agency action level, the level at which public water systems are required to deliver education materials and take action to reduce lead levels, is 0.015 mg/L.

In response to the findings, campus officials directed building occupants to steer clear of water in the buildings, provided them with alternative water sources and directed people who had consumed the water to treatment facilities.

The University also tested the water of buildings constructed in the past two years.

Representative samples were taken from buildings in groups by age at six months, 12 months, 18 months and then at two years.

Individuals in these buildings were notified by e-mail in late April that lead was not found in those buildings.

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