Contamination by heavy metals, such as lead, copper, and zinc, has occurred in drinking water distribution systems across America. The infamous water crisis of 2014 in Flint, Michigan, shed light on some of America’s water quality issues. Flint’s water distribution system failed to protect residents from lead poisoning due to improper corrosion control treatment with the long-term decay of its water infrastructure and the malfeasance of some city and state-appointed leaders. Faulty sampling methodologies, inadequate federal and state regulations, and officials’ corrupt behavior to provide public health education and information about the water system’s inadequacies, were all parts of the system that failed the Flint population. Flint’s water supply, already problematic from a heavy metal contamination standpoint, was made much worse, leading to lasting effects on the lives of many city residents.
In response to the water crisis in Flint, Union College established the Union College Water Initiative in 2017. This program provides free testing of cold drinking water for heavy metals like lead, copper, and zinc. Over the summer of 2020, I collected 144 samples in New York City and Long Island. We have found that 0.7% of the samples exceeded the EPA zinc concentration limit of 5000 ppb. 2.8% of the samples exceed the EPA copper concentration limit of 1300 ppb. Remarkably, no samples exceeded the lead drinking water limit of 15 ppb, though one sample had 14 ppb. We also found high concentrations of bismuth and thallium in a few samples, both from Long Island, and thallium is a particular concern. The Union College Water Initiative will continue to collect water samples to help educate more people about their water quality, as everyone has the right to clean drinking water.