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The Mass Media

The Mass Media

The Mass Media

Money Down the Drain!

The UMass Boston Office of Environmental Health and Safety acted quickly when a Mass Media article last semester revealed high levels of lead contamination in the drinking water at UMB. Among the measures taken to ensure that the drinking water in the closed, or “dedicated loops,” of the Healey, McCormack, and Science buildings meet legal limits for contaminates was to attach garden hoses to the dysfunctional filtrine units to keep water circulating, thereby preventing further contamination.

This preventative system, which is designed to make UMB water fountains safe, has been dumping unused drinking water down the drain since last February at a constant and unceasing rate. The hose beneath Healey Library alone, draining water at a rate of just below 1.6 gallons/minunte, has dumped over 480,000 gallons of water to date.

The hoses beneath the McCormack and Science buildings are believed to be flowing at similar rates, and if so, would combine for a total of well over one million gallons of water dumped since the preventative system was implemented. A spokesperson for the Boston Water and Sewer Commission explained that it would be difficult to estimate the total cost of water wasted, without precise figures on the total amount of water involved and precise price per gallon figures, which were unavailable to the Mass Media. The total UMB water bill for the last fiscal year was $254, 900.

“The water that comes from Quaban is fine,” says Dr. J Brian Dumser, associate director of Environmental Health and Safety, “but the problem is, the solder that connects the copper pipes is made of lead. That’s where it’s coming from.” The problem was perpetuated, as Dumser explains, because “the filtrine units in three buildings [Healey Library, McCormack, and the Science Building] were in disrepair.” Though Wheatley, Service and Supply, and the Clarke Athletic Center, because of their “open loop” systems, are not dependent on filtrine units, they required only individual carbon filters on each water fountain. These filters, contained in metal boxes beside the bubblers, run for a thousand gallons before they automatically shut the bubbler down and must be replaced.

Dumser explained that the contamination was not found in sinks, because they are continually “flushed,” that is, the water in the pipes is in virtually continual motion. The most substantial hazard was found where water remains stationary in the pipes after periods of non-use, such as a long weekend, allowing the lead solder in the joints to contaminate the water.

“Administration was, by its own means, fine. And the water we took from bubblers on the first floor of Wheatley was below hazardous levels because the bubblers were being used frequently,” Dumser states. In fact, according to Dumser, once the water in the pipes began moving consistently, most of the bubblers were suitable for drinking. It was the first drink of the day, after the water had sat stagnantly overnight that he was most concerned with. However, he admits that no further testing of the water has been done since these measures were implemented in February.

A proposal has been submitted to university administration to fix the faulty filtrine systems, but as of yet, no action has been taken.