UMass Boston's independent, student-run newspaper

The Mass Media

The Mass Media

The Mass Media

Still Drinking the Water?

Flashback: November 2000, shipping and receiving department employees call the Office of Environmental Health and Safety to complain about the “orange, nasty tasting water” coming out of a water fountain in the Quinn Building. The complaint sparked an investigation of the entire campus’s water fountains leading to the discovery that many had toxicity rates higher than legally permissible.

Over the past couple of years The Mass Media has reported on the toxicity levels of water bubbling out of this campus’s drinking fountains, and just last week this paper received an unofficial tip that the water filtration and circulation system is close to ninety-nine percent complete.

UMB members who are new to the campus probably don’t know about the discovery made two years ago this month. Some fountains measured had twenty-one times the legal limit of lead content, and three hundred and ten times the legal limit of iron. The source of the toxins was probably the solder used in the pipes, which contains lead, put in at the time of construction, and other lead-containing fountain components .

The initial article published in this paper also noted that the Office of Environmental Health and Safety cited the state’s recommendation that pregnant women run the water for fifteen minutes before drinking from the tap, and that here on campus everyone should know-through common sense-to run the water for a few minutes before drinking from the fountains.

After The Mass Media published the first article on this issue, back in February of 2001, the UMass Boston Office of Environmental Health and Safety quickly tried to remedy the problem. A proposal was submitted to repair the four broken filtrine units at an approximate cost of $100,000. However, due to the price tag, the administration opted to postpone the repairs and, instead, continually flush the water down the drain at a rate of 4.6 gallons per minute, 2.5 million gallons annually, at a cost to the university of around $20,000 per year.

Last April this paper reported that some undergraduates from the Environmental Studies department had performed water quality testing and discovered that some bubblers still had toxicity levels that were above EPA standards. Previously, campus members thought that the cheaper solution of continually flushing the water down the drain solved the problem of the pipes polluting stagnant water. A couple of weeks later the students that did the testing wrote to the paper to say that the fountains in question were turned off and the school had started accepting bids to actually fix the filtration problem.

Water quality on campus in an ongoing problem, and just one of many the campus has with its physical environment. As we watch stairways crumble under our feet, the garage cave in, and the catwalk fill with rainwater, it’s refreshing to hear it’s safe to drink the water again. Just in case, though, it might not be a bad idea to wait for a third party test of the new system. If you can’t wait that long, you should at least let the water run the state-recommended fifteen minutes before you drink.