Lead Contaminates Campus Houses’ Drinking Water

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Lead Contaminates Campus Houses’ Drinking Water

In 2016 and 2017, Earlham conducted a test for lead in drinking water for the residence halls and campus houses.

According to Earlham Facilities, among the residence halls, Mills was the only hall discovered to be at 4.4 parts per billion (ppb) which is above the lower detection limit of 3 ppb. The water mains on College Avenue that serve the campus do not include lead piping and have modern water supply lines, confirmed by the low lead levels present in the residence halls. However, 12 houses were found to be above the United States Environmental Protection Agency (USEPA) standard of primary drinking water contamination of 15 ppb. Woodman, Marshall, Doan, Hole, Gurney, Grant, Edwards, Wildman, CCC, Rowntree, Russell and Reece houses had lead levels ranging from 18 ppb to 84 ppb.

According to Ian Smith, Director of Facilities, “the lead appearing in water taken from houses must be coming from either the service lines between the houses and the street, or from within the houses themselves.” Following the discovery from the testing, he said, “drinking water outlets for all 12 of these houses were fitted with lead filters that have been changed annually in accordance with filter manufacturer’s recommended service interval.” He also mentioned that nine of the houses have been confirmed as having lead water lines from city mains to house foundations. According to him, “replacing these water service lines would require the cooperation of our local water utility, and that has not been forthcoming.”

Earlham’s water is supplied by Indiana American Water, IAW, a subsidiary of American Water. They are the largest investor-owned water utility in the state. Their corrosion control mechanisms are aimed at reducing the possibility of lead to contaminate water from the pipes. Lead sampling is self-collected by customers who then send it to IAW for testing.

In the 2018 IAW Water Quality Reports, lead presence in the distribution system was at 10 ppb based on 30 samples. We reached out to Cynthia Fadem, Associate Professor of Geology, for information on the processes behind IAW’s treatment plant. According to her, water treatment at the IAW plant, “takes into account the chemistry, not just of the pipes that they service but on the user property and in the user home – which they can’t control.”

This lack of control comes from the fact that under Indiana Drainage Law, “All maintenance of a private crossing […] is the responsibility of the owners of land served by the private crossing or structure.” This means that neither IAW nor the state government can make homeowners change their pipes. Fadem said, “there’s lots of complications there, especially if you have very old housing like we have in Richmond.”

Art by Masha Morgunova

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