Students unlikely to be affected by lead in STU’s water: Scientist

A water fountain on the ground floor of Edmund Casey Hall sits disconnected after high levels of lead were found in it. An advanced fountain with filters will replace it. (Karissa Donkin/AQ)

A scientist with the Conservation Council of New Brunswick is saying students need not be overly concerned about the university’s discovery of lead in water fountains.

Last week, St. Thomas University officials told students that eight water fountains on campus either had more lead than the Guidelines for Canadian Drinking Water Quality permits or were close to surpassing this level.

The affected fountains were disconnected and advanced fountains with filtration systems have been ordered to replace them.

The university is in the process of conducting more tests and received results from Chatham Hall on Saturday. Results showed a negligible amount of lead in the water, not enough to surpass the federal guidelines, STU spokesman Jeffrey Carleton said. Results from Rigby Hall are expected later this week.

Scientist Inka Milewski said the health risks for students who drink the water vary based upon how much of it they’ve consumed over time.

It’s unlikely students have consumed enough of the water for it to put them at significant risk, she said.

Even still, no exposure is better than any, Milewski said, and she’s encouraging students to make sure they’re informed about what’s in their food, water and air.

“The key is to reduce your exposure, reduce the duration of that exposure and also the concentration of that exposure,” she said.

Over time, whether you breathe in or ingest lead, it goes into the bloodstream, Milewski explained.

“It stays in the bloodstream for two to three days,” she said. “Then most of the lead that enters your body is stored in your bones.

“As you age, and you experience bone loss, any lead that you might have in your bones comes back into the bloodstream. Depending on how much lead you have in your bones, there are certain health effects that can be expected with having that lead recirculating in your body.”

Some of the health risks associated with lead include hypertension, kidney problems and memory loss, she added.

The Department of Health referred questions about the health risks of lead exposure back to the university.

Megan Penney is a third-year student who lives at Chatham Hall.

She’s happy with the university’s decision to dismantle the affected water fountains but wonders why the university waited to conduct tests at some locations.

“I was a bit concerned to learn that they only decided to test the pipelines in Forest Hill recently, as opposed to when they found lead in the first place.”

Briana Covey, a third-year student who says she drinks the water, is more worried about why lead was detected in the first place.

“I’m kind of curious how the lead got in the system and what changed to bring it up,” she said.

The university is still trying to determine whether it’s the pipes or the fountains causing the problem, or a combination of both, Carleton said.

In an email sent to students this week, director of facilities management Bill MacLean asked students to run the water for five seconds to two minutes to flush it out before drinking it.

STU’s water tests began after lead was detected at the University of New Brunswick.

Most recently, lead was detected in 18 per cent of UNB’s drinking water sources.

UNB took similar precautions by dismantling the affected fountains and conducting further tests.

The following locations at STU have been deemed to have high levels of lead:

  • Vanier Hall third floor south, second floor north and first floor north
  • Holy Cross House third floor administration, first floor west, second floor west
  • Edmund Casey Hall third floor and ground floor
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