In response to new NY state legislature requiring only public primary and secondary schools to test their drinking water for lead contamination, students and faculty of the Union College Geology Department have teamed up to test our very own campus community water for heavy metal contaminants. The source of Schenectady water is from the Great Flats aquifer, which underlies the Mohawk River Channel. All water from this source is filtered through treatment plants. As documented in the 2015 City of Schenectady Annual Drinking Water Quality report, Schenectady water is very safe with the 90th percentile from 30 samples yielding a lead value of 2 ppb and copper value of 78 ppb. The EPA limits for lead and copper are 15 and 1,300 ppb, respectively. Hypothetically, the level of these metals in Union College’s water should be equivalent to the Schenectady source water. Levels that are higher may be a result of local plumbing and campus service lines.
Over 165 water samples have been taken from more than 42 academic, residential, and recreational buildings on campus and analyzed for lead, copper, zinc, rubidium, strontium, barium, and uranium by inductively coupled plasma-mass spectrometry (ICP-MS). All samples were from standard drinking fountains, filtered fountains, bathroom faucets, kitchen faucets, and laboratory faucets and were categorized as first draw sample, second draw, routine use, or unknown use history. Our measured values were as follows: lead: 0.00 to 20.4 ppb, copper: 0 to 1387 ppb, zinc 0 to 3416 ppb, rubidium: 0.01 to 3.40 ppb , strontium: 0 to 847 ppb, barium: 0 to 47 ppb, and uranium: 0.01 to 0.46 ppb. The average levels for lead, copper, zinc, rubidium, strontium, barium, and uranium are 1.3, 440.8, 342.8, 0.2, 371.5, 29.2, and 0.2 ppb, respectively. Our findings show that the filtered fountains yield values much less than the Great Flats aquifer filtered water, and are very effective: decreasing levels of contamination by over two orders of magnitude. In total, only one isolated fountain exceeded EPA limits for lead and two for copper. The sample high in lead and copper was sent to a certified New York State Laboratory, St. Peter’s Hospital Environmental Laboratory, in Albany New York. Their results confirmed the accuracy of our results, also yielding 20 and 1300 ppb for lead and copper. Union College's office of Environmental Health and Safety and Facilities Services have shut off the water to this fountain.