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Elevated Levels Of Lead Found In Water At Penn State Residence Buildings

by Geoff Rushton

Penn State found elevated levels of lead in drinking water at three residence buildings on the University Park campus.

The university said in a release that routine and follow-up testing indicated Nittany Apartments 2401, 4303 and 5708 had levels above the EPA’s action level for lead of 15 parts per billion (0.015 mg/l).

“The University does not have lead in its source water and has no lead pipes in the distribution system,” the release stated. “The recent sampling results are not consistent with historic testing efforts that have consistently shown lead levels below the EPA’s action level. Penn State officials continue to investigate the potential causes of the elevated levels in certain buildings and will provide updates to the community.”

Penn State and the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection will continue to monitor water as well. The university is developing a plan to test water in all buildings “out of an abundance of caution.”

Lead can cause serious health problems at high levels, including brain and kidney damage. Infants, young children and pregnant women are most at risk.

Initial testing was conducted in the summer of 103 tap water samples from 30 buildings across campus from taps that had not been used for at least six hours. From those, 13 had initial readings with elevated levels. In most of those, the elevation was slight. Holmes, McElwain, Thompson, Redifer Commons, and Nittany Apartments 2205, 2504, 3501, and 5303 also tested above action level. On subsequent testing, after water was flushed for two minutes, it was below action levels in each of those.

Other buildings with test results below the action level for lead were Cooper/Hoyt, Pennypacker, Findlay Commons, Warnock Commons, Johnston Commons, Fisher Commons, Pollock Commons, Atherton Hall, Simmons Hall, Beaver Hall, Wolf Hall, McKee Hall, Hamilton Hall, Tener Hall, Miller Hall, Leete Hall, Hort Woods Child Care, Bennett Family Child Care, Daybridge Child Care, White Course Apartments, the HUB-Robeson Center, the Intramural Building, White Building, the Natatorium and University Health Services.

Samples were sent to an independent laboratory for testing.

According to the university, steps to reduce lead in water include:

–  Running water for several minutes or until it reaches a steady temperature before using it for drinking or cooking in order to flush stagnant water in the building’s plumbing.

– Use cold water for cooking and preparing baby formula. Lead dissolves more easily into hot water.

– Consider purchasing bottled water or a water filter. Read the package to be sure the filter is approved to reduce lead or contact NSF International at 800-NSF-8010 or for information on performance standards for water filters.

The school also recommends that those with concerns about a child being exposed to lead contact their health care providers to find out how they can get their children tested.

“Penn State goes above and beyond to safeguard the water for the people who live, work and visit campus from the source, treatment and distribution of water, including exceeding mandated testing minimums and even testing for things that are not required or regulated,” said David Gray, senior vice president for finance and business, in a statement. “We want our students, faculty, staff and visitors to know that their health and safety is paramount, and that we appreciate their patience as we investigate this further.”

The university is instituting a public education program and conducting a corrosion control treatment study in addition to further monitoring and testing in all buildings.

Penn State’s water system delivers about 2.4 million gallons of water per day and is pumped from the Big Hollow and Houserville well fields. Penn State has been sampling its water for lead every three years since 1992, as required by the EPA.

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