Disconnected fountains, warning signs on taps and continued testing raise questions about FDU’s water supply
By Theresa King
(TEANECK) – Unplugged water fountains with hand-written “Out of Order” signs. Sinks with permanent plastic signs warning not to drink the water. Water testing in academic buildings, dormitories and food service facilities.
What is going on with FDU’s water supply?
The Equinox reached out to FDU’s Vice President for Facilities and Auxilary Services Richard Frick for answers. Frick said his department began testing for lead out of concern for the safety of the campus community. He said the school is not required by any agency or law code to perform testing.
“We undertook this process because we were concerned about the wellbeing of our community,” Frick said. “That is our number one priority.”
Any water fixtures that were above the EPA level for lead were taken out of service or had signage posted above it alerting the community of their status, Frick said.
“For those devices, we would replace that particular device and make a decision as to whether we would post signage or take it out of service,” Frick said. “For example, we would replace the faucet and retest it. If it was below the EPA level, we removed the signage or turned the fixture back on.”
Frick said the food service areas on campus have been tested and that the situation has had no effect on Gourmet Dining services, but one sink in the Jeepers kitchen was taken out of service. The samples were taken in weekly increments, he said.
FDU’s website first posted water quality reports on July 6, and posted updates through Aug. 29. The water quality reports list which samples were taken from buildings across campus, as well as which were above the threshold established by the EPA, which is 15 parts per billion (ppb).
According to Frick, as of Sept. 20, there were 18 buildings that had fixtures (water fountains, sinks, spigots and showers) that exceeded the EPA standard for lead.
While updates were posted periodically on the university website, no email was sent out to the campus community to alert and inform students, staff and faculty of the problem.
Larry Hajna, a spokesman for New Jersey’s Department of Environmental Protection, told Philly.com that the “DEP does not have any regulatory program” for colleges and universities.
“Most colleges are connected to public water supplies, which are required to conduct some testing that may include campus buildings,” Philly.com reported. “But they are not required to test campuses specifically, and colleges are not required to do their own testing.”
In early September, testing at Rowan University showed elevated lead levels in various buildings on its main campus in Glassboro, according to NJ.com.
As a result, the school sent the campus community an email with information regarding the water quality and provided bottled water in dorms, in addition to disconnecting affected water fountains.
Moreover, the university installed filters in its water bottle filling stations in dorms, which is said to remove 99 percent of lead, according to Philly.com.
With the recent water crisis in Flint, Michigan, testing has been performed across the country to ensure tap water is safe to use.
The first round of FDU’s testing, performed in June, was on two of the oldest buildings on the Metropolitan Campus, the website said.
“Two initial buildings were identified and tested in June. These were the River House and the Student Counseling and Psychological Services building on the Metropolitan Campus,” according to the FDU water quality report from July 6.
“They were selected first because they are among the older buildings on the Metropolitan Campus and they were the most recent acquisitions. Preliminary results received last night indicate that both buildings exceeded the EPA actionable level for lead in drinking water.”
In the Aug. 29 update, the report says that sources with levels that are not to standard will be returned to service for drinking once they are retested and brought back to normal levels.
“The initial round of water testing has been completed,” the update said. “Primary samples have been taken from all buildings with drinking sources on the two New Jersey campuses.
“We are continuing now to remediate and test those sources where the lead levels were above the action level established by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. Once tests confirm that a source is no longer above the EPA standard, it will be returned to service for drinking.”
The water situation can be a problem for students.
“I have class in Robison and it’s been a major inconvenience that every time I want to get a drink, I have to either worry about health concerns or go to another building,” junior computer science major David Benson said.
As for the dormitories, many sinks and water fountains have been declared safe, and those that are not have been either taken out of service or equipped with signage warning residents not to consume or cook with the water.
However, it appears that Residence Life staff were unaware of the lead problem with the water.
“Unfortunately we weren’t told about this,” Jasmine Monroe, resident assistant of Linden 5 said when The Equinox asked her about it. “This is actually my first time hearing about this.”
When The Equinox reached out to Residence Life for comment, staff was directed to Dick Frick and the Facilities Department.
All of FDU’s water comes from Suez North America, which is regulated by the Department of Environmental Protection and the federal government, according to Frick.
In a call with an emergency service representative from Suez North America, The Equinox was told that when samples are taken and levels are above the EPA standard, it is an internal issue, rather than an issue with the source of water.
“When they take those samples, they are internal,” the representative said. “It depends, but it’s usually internal. If you tested the source of the water, which is from us, you would see that the levels are different.”
Lead is a harmful pollutant of water that can appear as a result of old piping carrying the source. Until the 1980s, lead piping was used because of its ability to resist pinhole leaks, according to Plumbing Manufacturers International.
As a result, homes and buildings constructed prior to the 1980s still have lead solder connecting copper pipes. When these pipes begin to erode, lead can seep into tap water.
“Lead has long been used in the plumbing materials and solder that are in contact with drinking water as it is transported from its source into homes,” according to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. “Lead leaches into tap water through the corrosion of plumbing materials that contain lead. The greater the concentration of lead in drinking water and the greater amount of lead-contaminated drinking water consumed, the greater the exposure to lead.”
According to World Health Organization, there is no level of lead exposure that is considered safe for humans.
“Lead is a cumulative toxicant that affects multiple body systems and is particularly harmful to young children,” according to WHO’s website.
“Young children are particularly vulnerable to the toxic effects of lead and can suffer profound and permanent adverse health effects, particularly affecting the development of the brain and nervous system. Lead also causes long-term harm in adults, including increased risk of high blood pressure and kidney damage. Exposure of pregnant women to high levels of lead can cause miscarriage, stillbirth, premature birth and low birth weight, as well as minor malformations.”
As of the date of publication, several water fountains and other fixtures across campus are out of service until the lead levels are brought back below EPA standard.
A new round of testing occurred throughout September, according to Frick. He said there are other options for drinking water in buildings other than the few fixtures affected. Once the sources on campus are below the EPA level for lead, they will be returned to service, he said.