University provides update on 2016 water findings

October 03, 2017

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. -- While performing routine tests during summer 2016, Penn State found elevated levels of lead in drinking water in some residential buildings on the University Park campus. Penn State initially informed the campus community in November 2016 and is now providing an update as part of its ongoing public education program. Penn State does not use lead piping anywhere on 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 it 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 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. As stated above, Penn State does not use lead piping 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 EPA 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 testing 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 healthcare 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.

In addition to instituting a public education program and conducting a corrosion control treatment study, Penn State committed to testing the water in all campus buildings and continues to monitor the water. For a full listing of buildings tested so far and the sample readings, as well as answers to questions about lead levels and water quality testing, visit waterstandards.psu.edu.

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 6 hours before a sample is taken.

The University does not have lead in its source water and has no lead pipes in its distribution system. The sampling results during the summer of 2016 were not consistent with historic testing efforts that have consistently shown lead levels below the EPA's action level and remain inconsistent with testing performed in the following months. 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), 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, please 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 October 03, 2017