The Union College Geology Department has been conducting the Union College Water Initiative (UCWI) in order to reassure the campus community that it has safe drinking water. The project was initiated in light of a recent New York State protocol moving to test for high levels of lead in the drinking water of its public schools. More than 1500 schools will be tested, however the legislation does not call on private institutions, residences and many other buildings to be tested. Water samples were collected from many different types of water sources around campus. It was crucial to collect the samples early in the morning because elements build up in the pipes over night. The samples were analyzed for harmful materials.
Other than one outlier in Sigma Phi Society housing, which had levels of lead and copper above EPA safety limits, it was concluded that students and faculty should feel confident drinking water on campus. The next step in the UCWI is to reach out to the local community to test drinking water and spread awareness. Lead and other elements in drinking water is unhealthy.
According to the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), even low levels of lead in drinking water can cause stunted development, anemia and hearing problems in children. Decreased kidney function, cardiovascular effects and reproductive problems are associated with adults exposed to high levels of lead. According to Henry Rosado, who leads a team to inspect broken pipes, New York State has water infrastructure that reaches back to the 1930s, 1940s and even 1890.
Lead was used for water piping in the early 1900s due to its ductility. Lead-tin alloy solder was also used to join copper pipes. Neither is used anymore because of the known adverse health effects. The United States Congress passed the Safe Drinking Water Act in 1974 to ensure safe drinking water. In accordance with the act, the EPA is required to set safe drinking water standards. Schenectady gets its water from the Great Flats aquifer, which has lead and copper concentrations of 2 ppb and 78 ppb, respectively.
However, lead and copper concentrations in non-filtered water on campus tended to be higher than the concentrations in the Great Flats aquifer, meaning there must be contamination from the local plumbing or campus service lines. Local institutions and residents are part of the same public water system, and if they have not had their water tested recently, they might have unsafe levels of lead and copper in their drinking water.
The United Nations adopted a resolution in 2010 recognizing that clean drinking water is a human right. Union’s Geology Department would be striving to fulfill the right to clean drinking water by supplying the local community with testing and awareness. Students and faculty will be advertising the service and reaching out to local residences and institutions beginning this spring term. The UCWI intends to distribute sample bottles at the Schenectady Green Market, which is located inside Proctors Theatre on Sundays from 10:00 a.m. to 2:00 p.m.. The UCWI tested 178 samples during winter term and intends to gather as many water samples from the surrounding community as possible.
There would be no charge for the service as the Geology Department would be devoting time and resources for the greater good of the community. Hopefully, students and faculty residing in the local community will take advantage of this free and informative service and will also spread word of it to their friends and family in the area. In the absence of government intervention, the UCWI will be providing a drinking water testing and awareness service to help increase health and moral in regards to public drinking water.