Last month, UNC-Chapel Hill officials detected lead in the water coming from the drinking fountains in the Wilson Library. After removing the fountains and expanding testing, this month the university also documented lead in fountains and sinks from a half-dozen campus buildings.
There is no safe amount of lead for humans to ingest in drinking water, according to the EPA and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
High levels of lead in the blood can lead to kidney and brain damage and can even be fatal. Pregnant people, fetuses and young children are particularly vulnerable.
The EPA requires public water systems to act to correct lead concentrations found at or above 15 parts per billion. A number of the water fountains and sinks on campus at Chapel Hill tested well above that mark.
The EPA has set a maximum contaminant level goal — non-enforceable but one that public water systems should strive for — of zero.
Though the cause of the contamination hasn’t yet been confirmed, older buildings with lead pipes or other plumbing equipment that includes lead can often be the root of such problems.
The university is encouraging students who may have been exposed to contact Campus Health at 919-966-2281 and employees to contact University Employee Occupational Health Clinic at 919-966-9119.
The university is prioritizing testing for pregnant people and those breastfeeding. Last week, students not in those categories reported trouble getting tests through the university and having to seek blood tests off campus.
6 – Total number of buildings on campus where lead has been detected in sinks and drinking fountains: Wilson Library, Fordham, Hamilton, Manning and Phillips halls and South Building, home to UNC-Chapel Hill administrative offices, including those of the chancellor and provost.
4 – Number of fountains at the Wilson Library with detectable levels of lead in the water
14 – Number of sinks at the library with detectable levels of lead in the water
7.2 – Level, in parts per billion, of lead detected in a fourth-floor drinking fountain at Hamilton Hall
34 ppb – Level detected in a second-floor drinking fountain at Hamilton Hall
193 ppb – Level detected in the second-floor drinking fountain at the Wilson Library — that’s nearly 13 times the level triggering action set by the EPA
402 ppb – Level detected in a fifth-floor drinking fountain at Hamilton Hall, almost 27 times the level triggering action
515 ppb – Level detected in a first test of a drinking fountain in the basement of South Building — a second test returned a reading of 254 ppb
662 ppb – Level detected in a second test of a third floor drinking fountain at Fordham Hall — that’s more than 44 times the level triggering action. A first test of the same fountain found no detectable lead.