College tests water lead levels after concerns from campus community

Geneseo’s Facilities Services conducted tests from September-January measuring the amount of lead found in water fixtures across campus. The tests were conducted after they received complaints from the campus community. (Marianna Sheedy/Staff Photographer)

Geneseo’s Facilities Services department has found relatively small amounts of lead in some water fixtures across campus after months of testing. The testing was completed after members of the college community voiced concerns.

Tests were conducted from Sept. 23-Jan. 26 and initial results found amounts of more than 15 parts of lead per billion in 15 water fixtures, as detailed on the Environmental Health and Safety Department’s webpage. The Environmental Protection Agency defines 15 ppb as the action level for lead content. 

Six of these 15 water fixtures are slated for removal. The remaining nine water fixtures were tested multiple times and after conducting several trials, Geneseo’s Facilities Services found less than the 15 ppb maximum in each of the fixtures.

Geneseo and other colleges are not required by law to check for lead, according to Director of Environmental Health and Safety Chuck Reyes. Instead, the water supplier publishes an annual report, which includes data on the water’s lead levels. 

Philosophy major senior Jessica Heppler said that she believes there should be some type of lead testing requirement for Geneseo.

“I think that some sort of mandate, even if it’s at the state level or SUNY level, would be warranted considering that people might have been drinking this water that contains lead,” she said. “I think the school’s gone in the right direction by providing more of the advanced water filtering water fountains like they have in the library, but they aren’t present in the buildings where we need them, like Welles and Sturges.”

Reyes said that the lead may originate from various locations, including the solder, the piping or the water fountains themselves, and as a result, certain fixtures will be phased out or replaced. 

“There are certain fixtures we will permanently remove or will replace with newer filtered water bottle fillers,” Reyes said. “We’re probably going to close some unused fountains in residence halls and put bottle fillers at the main entrance of every residence hall.”

While Facilities Services does some testing on the water fixtures generally, according to Reyes, the recent lead testing was accomplished due in part to concerns voiced by Heppler and associate professor of history James Williams. 

Williams described that over the summer, he noticed that a particular water fountain—one that will be removed by Facilities Services—in Sturges Hall had peculiar tasting water and was discolored.

“The water fountain would be brown in the summer and that’s a pretty good indication of an issue with the water,” he said. “It tasted pretty bad even during the school year, when generations of students would be drinking from that water.”    

While the school has checked for lead, some students remain concerned about other potential contaminants, as Heppler said. 

“What I hope that they will do in the future is test for other water contaminants because even though lead is one of the worst ones, there are lots of other water contaminants,” Heppler said. “When I followed up and asked whether they checked for others, they only checked for lead because that was the one that I brought up or the one they thought was most pressing.”

There are no plans to test for such contaminants, partly due to budget constraints, according to Reyes. Reyes indicated that other contaminants are not likely to pollute Geneseo’s water supply. 

“We’re not going to test for anything else at this point,” he said. “There are so many things that we can test for and there’s a limited amount of money at the college, but the water is tested before it comes here. We will continue to test these areas that have tested high to make sure that it continues to be below the action levels of 15 ppb.”