Communities across the Northwest were shocked recently to discover dangerously high lead levels in their water. How did this happen, and what’s being done to fix the problem?
At least two of Oregon’s big public universities have found lead in campus water fixtures.
Portland State University found elevated lead in faucets in an academic building, and Oregon State found it in a residence hall bathroom.
Portland State officials say the fixtures at Cramer Hall have been fixed, turned off or posted with signs. Cramer is home to a number of social science departments such as anthropology, economics and history. It is among PSU’s oldest buildings, having been built in 1955 as the original “Portland College” classroom facility, before the college was a full-fledged university. PSU released other sampling results showing lead levels below the federal safety threshold.
Officials say they’re still testing residential and dining halls built before 1990. According to a university statement, Heather Randol, PSU’s director of Environmental Health & Safety, said she doesn’t expect to find a widespread lead problem on campus, based on past results.
Oregon State University found lead above federal limits in a bathroom sink and three showers at Poling Hall. But those fixtures weren’t really for drinking. The university said it’s making repairs. It found elevated levels — but below federal action levels — in other fixtures at Poling Hall. OSU built Poling in 1957 and made significant upgrades to it in 2010.
A statement from OSU quotes Benton County health officials as saying health effects “would be negligible given the borderline levels of lead found and the fact that the sinks and showers were not a primary water source for drinking.”
The university said it has tested close to 40 buildings with only Poling Hall showing lead in high concentrations.
Elsewhere, the Oregon Institute of Technology said its Klamath Falls campus hasn’t had any issues with lead in the water. “No further samples or retesting were required,” OIT said in a statement.
OIT isn’t planning to test the Wilsonville campus buildings because city officials have tested the source water, and the relatively new buildings used lead-free plumbing materials.
The University of Oregon has not found elevated lead in its tests, but it has more work to do.
Communications director Kelly McIver said UO has sampled water fixtures at “key buildings” since 2008, including two children’s facilities.
“All samples were analyzed for corrosion byproducts and lead was not detected exceeding the EPA limit of 15 ppb in any of them,” McIver said.
The University of Oregon is doing more testing under a new “comprehensive update of its Drinking Water Monitoring Plan, using EPA-recommended best practices,” according to McIver. Under the new plan, UO intends to have a new set of tests complete for daycare facilities and residence halls by this fall and for all buildings by some time in 2017.