In response to complaints about water quality in the Service and Supply Building, the UMB EH&S Office recently conducted sampling and analysis of the water to identify potential problems and possible solutions. The initial strategy employed in cases such as this is to first focus on the worst location under the most demanding conditions. In this case, that meant the sink and water fountains in the maintenance garage, where the water often showed strong discoloration. Since the water supplied to the building is city water, problems arising can be assumed to be due to problems within the building's distribution system. As some contaminants, especially heavy metals, build up in the system during times of low use, the samples were taken on Monday, November 20th, following the weekend.
The results of this analysis showed high levels of iron and manganese, indicating corroded iron pipe somewhere within the system responsible for the blackish-red coloration. While esthetically unpleasant, these contaminants do not cause any health risk. Similarly, high but non-toxic levels of copper were found which simply indicates that the water drawn had been sitting in contact with copper plumbing for a long period of time, as expected under the sampling conditions. Of more concern however, very high levels of lead were detected. The water provided by the city is 'soft', that is, low in dissolved minerals such as calcium, and somewhat high in pH, and these are conditions which promote the dissolution of lead from structural components during standing. This building also has low occupancy at any time, and the low palatability occasioned by the iron discoloration results in reduced water use and general stagnation in the system. These truly are 'worst case' scenarios, relevant only to this building under these conditions, and not the facility in general. These are the test results published in the Mass Media (2/1/2001).
On obtaining these results, the UMB EH&S Office conducted wider sampling on sinks and water fountains throughout the building under normal conditions of use. The faucets were not specifically 'flushed' prior to sampling, rather the samples were taken at 10 AM on a Wednesday, to provide a snapshot of typical use conditions. Only lead was analyzed, as this was the only contaminant found which has adverse health effects. As expected, contaminant levels were much reduced, about 100- fold from the stagnant first draw condition. Lead levels were seen to reflect the amount of flow through each end-point. No lead was detected in any of the water taken from sinks. Levels in the four water coolers sampled tested ranged from half the recommended limit (which is 15 parts per billion) in the busy loading dock area to three times the recommended limit value in the essentially unused cooler in the maintenance garage. The two water coolers on the UL level showed twice the limit value in the corridor-installed unit, and slightly above the limit in the filtered unit across the corridor in the plumbing shop. Although none of these levels pose any acute health hazard, the UL corridor unit and the garage unit were shut off, and a new filter unit installed in the plumbing shop. The two units taken out of operation and the loading-dock unit will be replaced with new, filtered units. Disclosure of these findings was provided to all occupants of the building in a memo (12/20/2000), and further addressed for all trades during training sessions conducted in December and January.
As mentioned, lead enters our drinking water when the water remains in contact with lead-containing plumbing for long periods of time. Unfortunately lead, which is malleable and forms excellent water-tight seals, has been extensively used in plumbing fixtures, and identifying the responsible component can be difficult. Lead pipe was standard until banned in 1930. Lead soldered copper piping is present in virtually all buildings built between that time and 1986, which includes our facility and approximately 80% of the buildings in Boston. Complicating the picture is the fact that lead-lined reservoirs were common in water coolers until banned in 1988. Brass, a lead containing alloy, is also common in plumbing fittings and fixtures, and these fixtures did not come under regulation until amendments to the Safe Drinking Water Act in 1996.
The situation identified in the Service and Supply Building was quickly brought under control with regard to the potential for lead contamination at the delivery point, but we have not at this time identified the source of contamination, and are continuing the analyses. With regard to the rest of the facility, while the information gathered in Service and Supply has raised the question, it doesn't supply answers or for that matter even imply that a problem exists. A major question yet unanswered is whether the significant contributor is lead-soldered copper pipe junctions, or components of the water coolers. Complicating the picture is the fact that the water coolers are of different design and manufacture in all of the buildings, and often of different design within a single building. To address this issue, the UMB EH&S has conducted sampling throughout the entire campus. As samples taken during intersession would not provide an accurate picture of normal use conditions, the sampling was initiated after the first week of the new semester. Samples were collected from water coolers at Saturday morning 'first-draw' after overnight periods of inactivity, followed by a sample taken after 10 minutes of continuous flushing. These samples were sent to a state-certified laboratory for analyses.
In most buildings, the first draw samples were above the recommended limit value. After flushing many samples were below the recommended limit however, in a few areas the values were still high. Based on the results, the EH&S Office and Facilities Administration developed a plan of action for addressing these problems. First, in those buildings where first draw and flushed samples were highest - Science, Wheatley and Clark - filters are being installed on selected water coolers (see attached list) and others are being turned off. In those buildings where first draw samples were high and flushed were not - Healey and McCormack - the water coolers are being continually flushed to insure that water is not stagnant in the lines. Second, and more longer term, when some of the buildings were constructed, filtration units for the water coolers were included. For these systems, the original vendor has been contacted and will be brought in to evaluate the existing units and make recommendations for upgrading them.
We do not anticipate that critical lead exposures occur on campus, since all buildings which house laboratories - Science, Wheatley, and McCormack, are continually monitored by both UMB EH&S and the Massachusetts Water Resource Authority for lead, other heavy metals, and an extensive range of other toxic pollutants, and no detectable lead concentration has ever been found in the buildings wastewater. Nonetheless, recognizing that high concentrations in very small volumes may be generated by point-of-use devices (water coolers) which would not be detectable after dilution in the wastewater stream.
In summary, there is no indication that the drinking water supply at UMass Boston differs in any way from that found in other locations within the city constructed in the same time period, a sample which includes 80% of all such locations. The water poses minimal health risk to reasonably healthy adults, and the normal response of 'running the water until it's cold' removes any residual risk. As lead has potential developmental and neurological effects, it is important to minimize exposure to developing fetuses and developing children, at least until six years of age. Consult your pre-natal and pediatric care physician for additional information.
Areas that are not within EPA guidelines after flushing
to have Filtered Water:
2 water coolers per floor
(most) 2 water coolers per floor (except 1 on 4)
several water coolers
|Service and Supply||
LL 2 water coolers:UL 1 water cooler
1 water cooler
Areas within EPA guidelines after flushing and with systems that can be flushed
Areas that are within EPA guidelines: