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January 13, 2005

UW to test campus water

News and Information

Water provided to and used by the UW is regularly tested and found to be safe and clean — but it doesn’t hurt to double-check every now and then. And that’s exactly what will be taking place on campus this winter and spring.

The Facilities Services and Environmental Health & Safety departments are teaming up this year for a targeted survey of water in UW buildings to further check lead levels in water provided by outside sources. The testing will be done on a pre-determined schedule, from mid-January through April.

“We don’t have any reason to expect there are any major water quality issues on campus, but such sampling is part of the routine prevention activities done to assure public health and safety on campus,” said Karen VanDusen, director of the Environmental Health & Safety Department. “We just want to make sure we have the latest information on our water.”

The University’s holdings being geographically diverse, the institution gets its drinking water from several different sources. The Seattle and Bothell campuses get water from Seattle Public Utilities supplies that originate in the Cedar and Tolt river watersheds, while the Tacoma campus gets water from the Tacoma Water System, which comes from the Green River watershed. The UW’s Friday Harbor Laboratories facility is served by well water.

The water used on campus is mostly “soft,” is generally lead-free and contains few dissolved minerals. But soft water also is corrosive, and can leach metals — including lead — from pipes if lead was used in the original soldering. Seattle Public Utilities has reduced that possibility over the years by raising the water’s pH and hardness levels, which reduces its tendency to leach materials from pipes.

The supplying agencies routinely test water sent to their clients to ensure it meets standards set forth by the Washington State Department of Health. They do not, however, routinely sample water from buildings on the UW campus.

“We have over 200 buildings on campus and some of them have pretty old plumbing in them. Some were built in a time when lead solder was quite commonly used,” VanDusen said. “So it doesn’t hurt to make sure that the water received at the user end is the same quality that the vendor provides.”

As children are the most sensitive to any contaminants in drinking water, the UW testing will start where children are on campus. The Experimental Education Unit (a preschool and kindergarten on campus), family housing and child care centers will comprise the first phase of the testing, tentatively scheduled for January and February. The second phase, in February and March, will cover areas such as the residence halls and other buildings with pre-1980 plumbing. The third phase will cover cafeterias, buildings where water tests have been requested and others on the Seattle campus, as well as those at UW Tacoma. Buildings on the UW Bothell campus were built after the period when lead was used, so only minimal sampling will be necessary there.

The water testing will be done by UW Facilities Services staff with assistance by the UW Housing and Food Services staff, who will be trained by the EH&S Department. The samples will be analyzed by contract laboratories in accordance with nationally accepted standards.

EH&S will make testing results available through building coordinators, Housing and Food Services and an information sheet posted on the Web. The results will determine what, where and when any remedial measures might need to be taken by Facilities Services.


To learn more about UW water testing, visit: http://www.washington.edu/admin/facserv/fsorgrel/uwdwsp.html.