UMass Boston's independent, student-run newspaper

The Mass Media

The Mass Media

The Mass Media

EHS: “School’s Water Will Be Safe To Drink”

It is a well-known fact that the UMB campus has a new water filtration system installed in every building. What is not so well known is that the main purpose of the system is to remove the lead buildup that was a major problem with the old system.

The lead in the water, University Environmental Health & Safety office Vice Chair Brian Dumser explains, comes from soldered joints in pipes. Up until 1988, solder was composed of approximately 50% lead, but since then an EPA ban has forced manufacturers and contractors to use lead-free solder. Lead is fully soluble in water, and the central-unit systems in the McCormack, Science and Healey buildings only used particle filters, in addition to pumps, condensers and coolers, which did not get rid of the lead content. To upgrade to the filtration systems in these three buildings the facilities department set up carbon block filtration to address the problem.

According to Dumser, the times during which the most lead accumulates is whenever water in a system of pipes sits stagnant for a prolonged period of time, which could just be overnight. However, given people’s tendencys to let cold water run for about ten seconds after turning on their faucets, the amount of lead they are actually exposed to regularly is miniscule. The dosage of the metal in a normal water supply with lead-based soldering on the pipes and only particle filtration is not significant enough to cause harm to anyone except children under the age of 6 months and pregnant or nursing women. Given the number of women of childbearing age on campus it is in the school’s best interest to keep the lead level below the maximum safety level recommended by the EPA. They are not legally obligated to do so, however, since there is no legal limit to lead levels. The Quinn, Wheatley and Clark buildings have point-of-use filters, which are housed in the metallic boxes next to bubblers. These filters continually “trickle flush” the water so that it does not sit and accumulate lead for prolonged periods.

It was approximately two years ago, Dumser notes, that the university first discovered a problem with the campus’s water. In that time, as a stopgap before new “Filtrine” filtering systems could be installed, staff had to go through all the buildings and put new temporary filters on water fountains to avoid having to shut down the whole campus. Unfortunately, there were not enough filters available to use in all the fountains, so those without the temporary filters had to be turned off. Today, units which people may find inoperative at times have filters that prompt replacement using safety systems that automatically shut the units down after one thousand gallons of water have passed through them. With the new filters in place, the bubblers will all be turned on when staff finishes sampling and testing the water to assure that everything is running properly. This sampling should, according to the project’s head engineer Narayan Sharma, be completed by the time this issue of The Mass Media is available to the public.

Dumser claims the “brown water” mentioned in an editorial in The Mass Media’s last issue was the result of rust from oxidized pipes in the system which, while aesthetically unpleasant, is not a health risk. Other pollutants, such as pesticides, are not a factor, since the university’s water gets piped in from the Quabbin Reservoir, which is a closed system, and there are no pesticides used on campus. Other problems included one instance of a student complaining of tap water in a bathroom “smelling like beer.” Dumser jokingly referred to this as “wishful thinking on [the student’s] part,” but then explained that the complaint was filed at the end of the summer, at a time when many of the school’s water systems had gone unused for some time. During this time, a number of things could have happened in the system, including bacterial and algae colonization, which could produce an odor similar to alcoholic beverages. This, however, is something that the Environmental Health & Safety office will look into on a case-by-case basis.