Metro-East News

SIUE water tests clean for lead — except for two fountains

Eight months after testing revealed high levels of lead in drinking water at Southern Illinois University Edwardsville, all but two locations have tested clean.

SIUE reported to faculty and students Wednesday that follow-up testing conducted in February took more than 50 samples in 22 buildings and found only two locations still exceed federal and state lead standards of 15 parts per billion.

The two locations are drinking fountains in Lovejoy Library and Rendleman Hall, which have been permanently turned off and scheduled for replacement, according to the university.

Last August, two rounds of testing found lead levels ranging as high as 144 ppb, which led to a campus-wide shut-down of drinking fountains and bottled water service was provided while university leaders considered their options. Lead levels were high in older buildings like the library, but also at the brand-new Science West building. Flushing pipes and other measures brought all other samples into normal ranges.

The samples were taken from custodial closets where the mop sinks are, and they just aren’t used that often. Nobody drinks from those faucets, but they are part of the potable water system...

Rich Walker, interim vice chancellor for administration at SIUE

The SIUE campus owns and operates its own water system, but buys its water from the city of Edwardsville. The city’s annual water testing showed average lead levels of 3.5 ppb as of 2014, the most recent data available.

Following the August testing, SIUE also tested the water coming from the city and found lead levels remained within normal limits. However, the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency recommended additional treatment to reduce the potential to dissolve or corrode lead from plumbing fixtures, according to the university. Those corrosion control treatments have been added by the city water plant to the water supplied to the campus, according to SIUE.

Rich Walker, interim vice chancellor for administration, said that the city’s action was proactive. “All water is corrosive, but what you don’t want is for it to corrode pipes to the point where they leach out lead,” Walker said. “It wasn’t a requirement (to increase treatment), but it’s proactive, and it’s good that the city did that.”

But part of the problem was in where they took the original test samples, according to Walker.

“The samples were taken from custodial closets where the mop sinks are, and they just aren’t used that often,” Walker said. “Nobody drinks from those faucets, but they are part of the potable water system … The lead level changes if it’s sitting in the pipes for a long time or it might be a fixture old enough to leach out lead.”

The second time around, however, Walker said they tested the water fountains and sinks that are used for drinking, and got much better results except for the two fountains that will be replaced.

In the meantime, SIUE is beginning a project to replace all the valves and fire hydrants on the 2,660-acre campus. The $3.7 million project has been planned for some time to address the aging of the water distribution system, much of which dates back to the original construction of the campus more than 50 years ago.

Phase I replaces the valves and hydrants most in need, for a cost of $600,000, beginning this summer. The subsequent phases will be considered at later dates. The project is not connected to the lead contamination issue, however, Walker said.

Elizabeth Donald: 618-239-2507, @BNDedonald