Testing the waters and preventing lead contamination

By Lauren Lavelle

Rowan University was left scrambling in September after reports of discolored tap water led investigators to discover a significantly high reading of lead within the college’s water system.

Because there is no regulatory measure in place regarding the testing of water for colleges and universities in Pennsylvania and New Jersey, officials are not sure how long Rowan’s water has been harboring the dangerous substance.

Other institutions have now been prompted to test their own water supply for fear they have been ignoring an ongoing, possibly life-threatening issue.

“We have been tested,” said Rider’s Vice President of Facilities and University Operations Michael Reca.

According to Reca, every year, Rider selects certain buildings and conducts a round of extensive environmental tests measuring air quality, asbestos contamination and a number of other health-related problems.

“We do the best we can to test what we can see and what we can touch,” said Reca. “If we find anything that is of a material that needs to be replaced or if it is not airborne and not dangerous, we note it and keep a record of it.  If there is something that needs to be addressed immediately, we address it and take care of it quickly.”

An environmental company often assists with the annual inspections to ensure the quality of the examination.

“The environmental company that we use serves a dual purpose for us,” said Reca. “If we identify it, they can write a specification, we can bid the work and then it can be done within state regulations. We then report it to the state, they inspect it and we clean up.”

While only select buildings are chosen for testing each year, Reca says additional testing was done in light of the recent scare.

“In the past 15 or 20 years, we’ve pretty much tested all the buildings on campus but we did a specific water test when these issues arose,” he said.

The results of the test remain positive with almost all areas showing no signs of any lead contamination.

“We had a very, very low return of any contaminated areas,” said Reca. “Some of the contaminated areas were in boiler rooms where water cycles through the boiler so it’s not an issue, and some came out of the custodial closets.”

To further protect and eliminate the presence of lead completely, both Rider and Westminster Choir College have decided to put filters on all sources of consumable water.

According to Reca, over 300 filters have been installed and he expects all sources to be filtered before the beginning of spring semester.

“Anywhere that we thought there might be elevated levels, we’ve already addressed,” he said. “Now, we’re in the cycle of just doing it.”

Fully equipped to stop lead in its tracks, the filters are state of the art and will protect Rider for up to a year before being replaced.

“They’ve been vetted through our environmental consultants as one of the best filters to catch lead,” said Reca. “Only so many gallons can pass through them before you have to change them, but they have a sensor on them, so the sensor turns red when it has to be changed. Because we just started putting these in, we’ll start checking them at the end of next summer to make the replacements.”

In regards to the absence of a mandatory program that requires water tests for universities and colleges in New Jersey and Pennsylvania, Reca hopes that the recent awareness of the issue will prompt legislators to take a step forward in passing a law to enforce yearly testing.

“It can’t hurt to have it,” said Reca. “I think it needs to have a dual purpose. There has to be a regulatory piece that talks about it and then there needs to be legislation to support it.”

Kristine Brown, university spokeswoman, simply wants the Rider community to be aware of how proactive facilities management has been while handling the situation.

“Our community should feel confident knowing that Rider is committed to the health and safety of our students, staff and faculty,” said Brown. “We will continue to monitor and test the water in all of our campus buildings both in Lawrenceville and Princeton and will immediately address any issues, should they arise.”

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