Elevated levels of lead found during routine water testing

November 10, 2016

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — Penn State found elevated levels of lead in drinking water in some residential buildings on the University Park campus. Lead can cause serious health problems, especially for pregnant women and young children. Please read this information closely to see what you can do to reduce lead in your drinking water.

Health effects of lead

Lead can cause serious health problems if too much enters your body from drinking water or other sources. It can cause damage to the brain and kidneys, and can interfere with the production of red blood cells that carry oxygen to all parts of your body. The greatest risk of lead exposure is to infants, young children and pregnant women. Scientists have linked the effects of lead on the brain with lowered IQ in children. Adults with kidney problems and high blood pressure can be affected by low levels of lead more than healthy adults. Lead is stored in the bones and can be released later in life. During pregnancy, the child receives lead from the mother’s bones, which may affect brain development.

Sources of lead

Lead is a common metal found in the environment, but it is rarely found in source water. Lead may enter tap water through the corrosion of plumbing materials, such as lead pipes, copper pipes and solder in distribution systems and building piping. Penn State does not use lead piping anywhere on campus.

The main sources of lead exposure are lead-based paint and lead-contaminated dust or soil, as well as certain types of pottery, pewter, brass fixtures, food and cosmetics. Brass faucets, fittings and valves, including those advertised as “lead-free,” may contribute lead to drinking water. The Environmental Protection Agency estimates that 10-20 percent of a person’s potential exposure to lead may come from drinking water.

Steps you can take to reduce your exposure to lead in your water

Please read this information closely to see what you can do to reduce lead in your drinking water.

  • Run your water to flush out lead. Run water for several minutes or until it becomes cold or reaches a steady temperature before using it for drinking or cooking. This flushes out stagnant water in the building’s plumbing and replaces it with fresh water.
  • Use cold water for cooking and preparing baby formula. Lead dissolves more easily into hot water.
  • Do not boil water to remove lead. Boiling water will not reduce lead.
  • Look for alternative sources or treatment of water. You may want to consider purchasing bottled water or a water filter. Read the package to be sure the filter is approved to reduce lead or contact NSF International at 800-NSF-8010 or www.nsf.org for information on performance standards for water filters.
  • Test your water for lead. We are developing a plan to test water in all buildings out of an abundance of caution.
  • Get your child’s blood tested. The greatest risk of lead exposure is to infants, young children and pregnant women. Contact your health care provider to find out how you can get your child tested for lead.
  • Plumbing fixtures containing lead. Brass faucets, fittings and valves, including those advertised as “lead-free,” may contribute lead to drinking water. The law currently allows end-use brass fixtures, such as faucets, with up to 8 percent lead to be labeled as “lead free.” Visit the NSF website at www.nsf.org to learn more about lead-containing plumbing fixtures.

During sampling conducted earlier this summer, 103 tap water samples were tested from 30 buildings across campus. Of those, 13 individual samples (12.6 percent) had readings with elevated samples, which do exceed EPA’s action level for lead of 15 parts per billion (0.015 mg/l). The elevation was slight in many of those 13 samples, while a few samples did produce higher levels.

Additional follow-up testing at the elevated locations indicates all are below the action level except for three apartment buildings — Nittany Apartments 2401, 4303 and 5708. Additional locations not originally sampled also are below action levels, including the Hort Woods, Bennett Family and Daybridge Child Care Centers, the HUB-Robeson Center, the Intramural Building and University Health Services. Additional source water sampling results indicates lead levels below the levels of detection.

The sampling process consists of taking “first draw” samples from taps that have not been used for at least six hours. When water sits for several hours, lead can leach into the water supply from sources, such as lead solder or brass faucets, and fittings and valves that may contain lead. None of the buildings and apartments on the University Park Campus Water System have lead service lines. The samples are then sent to an independent certified laboratory for testing. Since the Sept. 30, 2016, testing, the University has resampled some of the buildings from the original list, as well as collected new samples from additional locations on campus.

University leaders are committed to the health and safety of the community, and will continue to monitor and address the situation, including testing the water in all campus buildings, instituting a public education program and conducting a corrosion control treatment study. The University Park water system currently delivers about 2.4 million gallons of water per day, which is pumped from the Big Hollow and Houserville well fields. Since 1992, Penn State has been sampling its water for lead every three years, as required by the EPA. The EPA requires that water must be allowed to stand motionless in building plumbing pipes for at least six hours before a sample is taken.

For a full listing of buildings tested and the sample readings, as well as answers to questions about lead levels and water quality testing, visit waterstandards.psu.edu. All residents of the buildings tested have been contacted by the University via letter with information about the findings of their water sampling.

“Penn State goes above and beyond to safeguard the water for the people who live, work and visit campus from the source, treatment and distribution of water, including exceeding mandated testing minimums and even testing for things that are not required or regulated,” said David Gray, senior vice president for Finance and Business. “We want our students, faculty, staff and visitors to know that their health and safety is paramount, and that we appreciate their patience as we investigate this further.”

For example, Gray said testing for volatile organic compounds in drinking water is mandated annually. Penn State tests for these compounds monthly. Penn State also tests for 62 different parameters in its water, above and beyond the 20 regulated parameters.

The University does not have lead in its source water and has no lead pipes in the distribution system. The recent sampling results are not consistent with historic testing efforts that have consistently shown lead levels below the EPA’s action level. Penn State officials continue to investigate the potential causes of the elevated levels in certain buildings and will provide updates to the community.

The University, in conjunction with the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (DEP), also will continue to monitor the water. If you are concerned about exposure to lead, and if your water hasn’t been used for several hours, run the tap for several minutes or until the water becomes cold before using for drinking or cooking. For more information, including food preparation impacts, visit https://www.cdc.gov/nceh/lead/tips/water.htm.

Lead information

For more information and to stay up to date on what Penn State is doing to keep drinking water safe, visit waterstandards.psu.edu. For more information on reducing lead exposure around your building and the health effects of lead, visit the EPA’s website at www.epa.gov/lead or contact your health care provider.

Last Updated November 10, 2016