Image courtesy of Diana Hernandez

Five CPP buildings test postive for lead in water

By Taylor Jaseph, Aug. 30, 2022

Facilities Planning & Management detected small amounts of lead in water in five campus buildings, according to an email sent July 5 to the campus community.

Cal Poly Pomona’s drinking water is safe and follows all state compliances, as stated by George Lwin, manager of Energy, Utilities and MEP Services. Of the total 60 tests, five came back detecting lead, four being under the federal regulation, not requiring action. The five buildings that detected lead were the drama department/theatre (25), Fruit/Crops Unit (28), Student Health Services (46), Facilities Planning & Management (81) and Facilities Management Warehouse (86).

This was a routine check required by federal regulation. All buildings that detected lead had filters installed on every device that humans could conceivably drink from.

“It’s (the filters) probably the best and probably the fastest that we can do it (remove lead), because the other way is to find where the source of the lead is and possibly replace the piping in the building,” Lwin said.

Of the five samples that came back detecting levels of lead, building 25 was the one with the highest level. The limit of lead in water where action is required is 15 parts per billion.

According to the July 5 email, the first sample from building 25 exceeded this amount. A second sample from the same site after this finding detected lead under this limit. Building 28, 46, 81 and 82 detected levels of lead under 15 ppb, not required to be fixed by federal regulation.

Action was still taken to remove the lead from all buildings to provide the safest drinking water to the people of CPP.

This is not the first time in CPP’s history lead has been detected in the drinking water. CPP’s buildings are old and, before 1986, pipes used to be soldered with a lead base. Soldering is a process where a metal alloy — in this case one that contained lead — is heated to fuse metal workpieces, such as pipes, together permanently.

In 1986 Congress prohibited soldering with lead, but all buildings prior to this year will have some amounts of lead in the pipes, according to Aaron Klemm, senior vice president of Facilities Planning & Management.

Replacing all the pipes in the campus buildings built before 1986 would be difficult to accomplish because of how disruptive, expensive and time consuming the process is. The building would be closed and unusable for about a year to completely replace the pipes.

Fixing the dated pipes are part of the campus’ $412 million deferred maintenance backlog, so the pipes are being continually worked on, but replacing every pipe in all the buildings built before 1986 is implausible.

“Just go in, to say, building 25 and ripping out all of the plumbing and then leave the building as it exists today isn’t a wise use of scarce resources,” Klemm said about replacing the pipes. “So, we are working on, and continually work on, and improve that deferred maintenance backlog, but it’s really not feasible with the funding available.”

This is why installing filters on all water systems, such as taps, drinking fountains and refill stations, is the solution. The filters effectively remove lead from the water and is the principal course of action when CPP encounters this problem.

The lead tests are currently being conducted every six months per regulation. Sixty sites are chosen to be the location of the samples and the locations are sent to the Division of Drinking Water for approval.

Once the sites are approved, the water operators run the water to flush it out. The faucet is then bagged, which means a bag is put over the faucet to prevent anyone from using the water for six hours. The water that sat in the pipes and faucet is then sampled and sent to an independent lab to be tested.

“The sample is before any final filtration on the fixtures,” Klemm said. “So, if it is a bottle filling station or a drinking fountain, we have to take the final filter out and test it coming straight out of the tap.”

With the filters installed, CPP’s water is safe to use and follows all regulations set by California.

To learn more about the findings of the tests, the email from Facilities Planning & Management was sent out to the CPP community July 5.

Feature image courtesy of Diana Hernandez

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