In an email sent out to Wayne State employees on July 20, President M. Roy Wilson gave an update regarding the elevated levels of lead found in campus water fountains. He said 47 sites on campus, drinking fountains and faucets, were confirmed to have levels of lead and/or copper near, at or above EPA action levels, and those sites have been removed from service until they can be remediated.
Wilson discussed how the Office of Environmental Health and Safety, along with Facilities Planning & Management, and Housing and Residential Life, collected 3,249 water samples from WSU’s 100 buildings. He described the water testing as a “logistical challenge requiring detailed planning and hard work.”
In the email, Wilson explained the testing process.
“Before each sample could be taken, water had to be run the night before and then allowed to sit for at least six hours,” he said.
Marc Edwards, a civil engineering/environmental engineer and professor at Virginia Tech, confirmed that this process is known as pre-flushing.
“The EPA sent a memo in February or so, requesting that pre-flushing be stopped,” he said. “Indeed, pre-flushing can make lead in water lower when sampling than it is when people are drinking the water. It is a sampling instruction that we now know can miss lead in water hazards.”
An internal memo by the EPA’s Miguel Del Toral, published by the American Civil Liberties Union of Michigan, said, “The practice of pre-flushing before collecting compliance samples has been shown to result in the minimization of lead capture and significant underestimation of lead levels in drinking water.”
According to an article by The Guardian in January 2016, “Michigan amended its water testing rules in the wake of the Flint poisoning crisis.” The article said that the pre-flushing practice was removed from state water testing rules by the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality.
“Unfortunately, any testing on campus is voluntary, so people can do whatever they want,” Edwards said.
“There are no laws at all defining what is acceptable – the system in place protecting us from lead in water at schools, whether it is day care, elementary, high school or colleges, is completely voluntary,” he said. “You can have hazardous waste levels of lead coming out of a tap in a daycare, and it is perfectly legal.”
According to the EPA’s website, “thousands of public schools and licensed child care facilities are not regulated under the Safe Drinking Water Act.” WSU falls under this criteria.
“There is no federal law requiring sampling of drinking water in schools that receive water from other public water systems,” according to EPA documents. “Schools served by a public water system may be included as a sampling location (i.e., tap) for a public water system’s lead and copper monitoring program, but there are no federal requirements for more extensive testing.”
Rob Moon, director of the Office of Environmental Health and Safety, said, “We do understand the implications of our testing protocol. It is still the standard protocol.”
He said pre-flushing is not prescribed as standard protocol, but it’s also not prohibited.
“MDEQ and EPA state that the water must sit still for six hours prior to sampling, and we’ve met the criteria,” he said.
Moon said this round of testing involved over three thousand samples and “we wanted to be able to have a valid comparison. “
“This round of sampling was basically step one,” he said. “We plan, moving forward, to continue monitoring the drinking water on campus. Any elevated results are being investigated. Many of these had elevated results in the first test, but then had multiple tests afterward that came up much lower, and we’re going to investigate these sources.”
Moon added that the Office of Environmental Health and Safety will be performing random sampling on an ongoing basis without pre-flushing.
“This project was massive, absolutely massive, and we felt that it was important to follow the established standard and a systematic protocol for testing, so that our results really provide some valid information.”
To view a complete list of all of the buildings that have been tested for lead levels, click here: https://wayne.edu/campus-water?utm_source=link&utm_medium=email-578e5126ea1de&utm_campaign=Campus+water+update&utm_content