“Infected by lead”: Detectable levels of lead found in water fixtures in UNC Chapel-Hill student residence halls

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CHAPEL-HILL, N.C. (WTVD) — UNC-Chapel Hill is taking an “aggressive approach,” to address the detectable levels of lead found in water fixtures in buildings on campus.

The campus-wide water testing is proceeding in a phased approach that is expected to last multiple weeks, according to the university, which is now in its “Phase Two” of testing water fixtures in buildings that were built in or prior to 1930.

On Tuesday, the university said detectable levels of lead were found in 57 out of 84 in-room sinks throughout Spencer Residence Hall which is part of phase two testing.

“Additional water coolers have been added to this building, and we are meeting with residents” the university said. “Blood lead level testing continues to be available at Campus Health for all students in affected buildings.”

George Battle, Vice Chancellor for institutional integrity and risk management, said although the lead levels are under the EPA threshold for action, they’re testing all water fixtures and buildings because “it’s the right thing to do.”

“Even if we find lead levels below 15 parts per billion, even if it’s point two parts per billion, we are taking action and taking that fixture out of service and replacing it, remediating it in some way,” Battle said. “The vast majority of fixtures that we find have no detectable lead overall, but that’s not stopping us from just making sure that we have an inventory here.”

At Stacy Residence Hall less than half a mile away from Spencer, the only level of lead detected was 1.1 PPB.

“In my floor, our drinking fountain has been found contaminated with lead,” freshman Heidy Garcia said. “So thankfully whenever there was concerns brought out about lead, they quickly got to testing it and blocked off any potential things that were infected by lead.”

Garcia said although testing was kind of inconvenient at times, the university was quick to address it. However, she’s hesitant to drink from some water fountains on campus.

“I’m only drinking from places that I know had been tested, and have come up with results that they’re okay to drink from,” Garcia said. “Any place else, I won’t drink, I’ll bring a water bottle with me or something like that.”

For freshman Serena Sherwood, Everett Residence Hall was tested for lead during Hurricane Ian, which she called a “unique experience.”

“We couldn’t use the kitchen in our dorm, we couldn’t use any of the water bottle fillers, or water fountains in our dorm,” Sherwood said. “Our dorm didn’t end up with lead, but it was concerning because I was coming into college thinking that my dorm would be safe, that I would be able to drink the water in there, and I had been drinking water in there for about two and a half months now, so to hear that it could’ve had lead in it this whole time was just not something I wanted to hear.”

In addition to communication, the university said they’re making health testing for lead available to all UNC-Chapel Hill faculty, staff and students who work, study or live in the affected buildings.

“Our situation, unfortunately, is not unique,” Battle said. “You’ve seen school districts, other places where you have older buildings, older facilities that have undergone this over the years. But I think where we are unique is, in terms of the aggressiveness which we tackled this and the speed with which we are trying to get this done.”

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