A second round of testing has found that at least two buildings at Southern Illinois University Edwardsville still have high levels of lead in the water.
Testing performed earlier in August at SIUE found that water in Lovejoy Library, Rendleman Hall and Metcalf Theater had lead levels exceeding the federal and state action levels of 15 parts per billion. Science West, a relatively new building that opened in 2013, had lead levels at 14.9 parts, which is just under the action level, according to Rich Walker, interim vice chancellor for administration.
SIUE performed another round of testing at all campus buildings the day after the results came back from the first test. In the meantime, water fountains throughout the campus were shut down and large coolers of water were set up for students, faculty and staff to have regular access to safe water.
On Monday, the campus announced that the retested samples from two floors of Lovejoy Library and all four floors of Science West came back above the government’s action level again. Lovejoy Library had originally tested at more than 144 ppb; the retest had numbers ranging from 1.0 to 79.1 ppb.
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“With mixed results, the next action step is to test every potable water source,” Walker said. “Collecting samples will begin (Wednesday).”
Drinking fountains at the library will continue to be turned off and water will be provided by a bottled water service while university leaders consider options.
We are not out of the woods yet. But we will keep working at this until we are below the action levels. It won’t be a quick fix, but it’s the right thing to do.
Rich Walker, SIUE interim vice chancellor for administration
At Science West, testing ranged from 19.6 ppb to 60.5 ppb, all above limits. “With consistent results, the next action step is to hire an outside consultant to help us find the source of the problem and to help develop a remedy,” Walker said.
The Science West results were especially “puzzling,” Walker said, because the building is brand new. Because the problem doesn’t appear to be a campus-wide issue in the distribution system, they will hire a consultant from an engineering firm with domestic water experience, he said.
“They will help us develop resolutions to the problem, including cost and timeline,” he said. “We are not out of the woods yet. But we will keep working at this until we are below the action levels. It won’t be a quick fix, but it’s the right thing to do.”
Meanwhile, samples from residence halls, Cougar Village and the Early Childhood Center were in the normal range. Cougar Village and the on-campus day care center were especially of interest because lead contamination in drinking water can have a much greater effect on young children than adults, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Metcalf Theater tested normal and will be returned to normal use after flushing the pipes, according to a notice that went out to the university community earlier this week.
At Rendleman Hall, which is primarily an administrative office building, samples from all four floors were below the action level except one location in a sub-basement mechanical room. That sink will be labeled not to be used for drinking water, SIUE officials said, and the rest of the Rendleman Hall will be returned to normal operation.
Likewise, samples from three floors of Alumni Hall tested normal, but one sample from a sink in a custodial closet was above the action level and will be labeled not to be used for drinking water.
All other buildings tested in the normal range, officials said.
Walker said he was originally worried that the university community would think he was overreacting by initially shutting down all water fountains on campus. However, he said there have been “no complaints.”
“People have been very understanding,” he said. “They seem to appreciate the quick action and overly cautious approach.”
The SIUE campus owns and operates its own water system, buying its water from the city of Edwardsville. The city’s annual water testing showed average lead levels of 3.5 parts per billion as of 2014, ranging from 1 part per billion to 9.7 at various locations citywide.
According to the Centers for Disease Control, lead cannot be seen, tasted or smelled in drinking water. Older homes may still have lead taps or interior water pipes, and sometimes lead leaks into the tapwater from corrosion of older fixtures. However, Walker said he is sure there are no lead fixtures remaining in the SIUE water system, especially in Science West, which was recently constructed.