University to test water for lead

The University will be testing all campus water for lead in the coming weeks after officials discovered at least one on-campus building has a lead service line. While an initial check found that residential buildings on the Foggy Bottom and Mount Vernon campuses are not supplied by lead pipe lines, GW inspectors found a lead service line leading to the Judaic Studies Department townhouse at 2142 G St. during a search of office buildings.

The lines to the townhouse will be replaced in the next month, and GW expects the results from water samples taken from all buildings in about three weeks. While officials said March 3 that they did not plan to collect samples from buildings and test water, GW left the testing option open.

“At the time, we hadn’t made a firm decision to test or not test,” said Walter Gray, director of Facilities Management. “The objective then was to verify what (the D.C. Water and Sewer Authority) had told us about the kinds of service lines we had, then decide what action we would take.”

The University initially received a list of the type of water service lines from WASA in early March and found the lead line during a visual inspection by GW facilities’ employees.

“The University will be testing the water to determine whether the lead levels are in accordance with EPA standards,” said Matt Nehmer, assistant director of Media Relations.

Nehmer wrote in an e-mail that the contractor will send water samples to an outside lab for analysis and will share results when they become available.

Judaic Studies Department Chair Mark Saperstein said he received an e-mail last week informing him of the discovery in the department townhouse and directing office staff to stop using tap water.

Saperstein said members of the department, which has used the building since the summer of 1998, often use tap water to make coffee and tea and also drink from a water fountain.

He was also supportive of University testing measures even though GW did not go ahead with testing immediately. The project to replace the department’s service line will cost between $5,000 and $10,000, Gray said.

Gray also urged that the discovery of a lead pipe doesn’t mean there was elevated lead in the water.

“We don’t know anything yet. That’s what we’re waiting for the tests to tell us,” he said.

He said the University told him that medical attention was unnecessary.

“We have used coffee makers at receptions … but I can’t imagine the small amount of use means we need to get a blood test,” Saperstein added

The testing of GW’s drinking water come after concerns about high lead content in District water. WASA is in the midst of replacing hundreds of lead service lines after investigations found an unhealthy amount of lead in city and residential buildings.

D.C. health and safety and water management officials held a public forum in the Jack Morton Auditorium Wednesday evening to discuss concerns about what tests have indicated are increased levels of lead in the city’s drinking water.

“We are very concerned about this new phenomena we’ve encountered,” said Jerry Johnson, general manager of WASA.

The panel included Johnson, WASA director of engineering Leonard Vincent and Thomas Calhoun of the D.C. department of health.

Johnson stressed that although some areas of the city showed levels of lead above EPA standards, the problem was not widespread.

A routine sampling of 50 homes in 2002 and 2003 found that some homes’ water exceeded safe levels, requiring the city to replace a minimum of 7 percent of the city’s 23,000 lead service lines.

GW professor Jerome Paulson has criticized WASA for not effectively dealing with the lead situation. He said he supports University measures to test water but it is not as urgent for GW because the community is not as prone to the detrimental effects of lead.

“There is not a large population of children on campus, and they are at the greatest risk (after high exposure to lead),” said Paulson, an expert in pediatrics and the effects of lead. Lead gravely effects the developing brain and other organs in young children and can effect unborn children through their pregnant mothers.

Gray said he is confident tests will show that GW drinking water is safe for consumption.

-Zach Ahmad contributed to this report.

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