Drinking Water Management

Drinking Water Management

Western's Drinking Water Management Program

Updated April 2022

In the summer of 2019, Western’s Environmental Health and Safety (EHS) department commenced sampling of drinking water sources for lead concentration.  Over 900 locations have been sampled thus far.  Testing was interrupted by the pandemic and the goal is now to complete sampling by in the spring of 2022.  Please see below for more information on sampling locations.  The summary of the results are as follows:

  • Approximately 95% of sample results are below the EPA action level of 15 parts per billion (ppb) of lead. 
  • Mitigation action steps for sources at or above 15 ppb depend on location
  • For a comprehensive list of locations tested from 2019-2022 click hereWhen a sample result is “ND” it indicates that lead was not detected above 1 ppb.

A large number of Western’s facilities were sampled in 2008 and 2013. Additional resources were requested to expand the sampling scope to include those locations where there exists a potential for vulnerable populations to overlap with buildings built prior to 1988, as well as buildings that were built between 1988 and 2011.

While Western’s Drinking Water Management Program covers all campus buildings, with many locations already having been sampled, current monitoring efforts will prioritize the oldest locations on campus which serve the youngest populations. 

Children are the most susceptible to the effects of lead. Their bodies are still undergoing development and they tend to absorb more lead from the environment. Therefore, testing will prioritize older buildings that serve children’s programs including daycare and overnight programs, followed by residences, then academic and administrative facilities.

The City of Bellingham boasts some of the cleanest and safest drinking water in the country. The City works with Western’s Institute for Watershed Studies (IWS) to monitor water quality trends in Lake Whatcom. IWS provides detailed annual reports, which are made available on the City of Bellingham website.

Since 2008, Western EHS has taken additional steps to monitor the campus’ drinking water. In October of 2018, Western contracted with an outside consulting company to comprehensively review its Drinking Water Management Program, using EPA-recommended best practices. While there is no federal law requiring universities to test their drinking water. Western determined it in the best interest of the campus community to test priority sites on campus.

Water Sampling Information:

A large number of Western’s priority facilities were sampled in 2008 and 2013. Additional resources will be requested to expand the sampling scope to include those locations where there exists a potential for vulnerable populations to overlap with buildings built prior to 1988, as well as buildings that were built between 1988 and 2011. The goal would be to complete sampling by December 2021.

The current sampling project will use three different sample types. They are defined as follows:

  • Initial Samples - “first draw” samples collected directly from the tap after a period of no usage. These are used to initially screen the fixture.
  • Flush Samples – samples that represent the water within the building plumbing. Collected if Initial Samples produce elevated results. Flush Samples are collected following a 30 second flush prior to sample collection.
  • Mitigation Steps – locations that test above the EPA’s recommended limit will be tagged out of service, removed, marked as “Non-Potable Water, Do Not Drink”, or replaced with a certified lead-free fixture.
  • Confirmation Samples – samples collected after mitigation steps have been completed, and used to confirm that mitigation was successful. If Confirmation Sample results are elevated, fixtures remain out of service for drinking purposes until mitigation actions succeed.

Mitigation steps are taken to reduce the lead content in drinking water where elevated sample results have been observed. These steps can range from implementing a flushing program to help reduce lead levels that may increase while fixtures are not in use, cleaning aerators regularly, removing the fixture from service completely, replacing the fixture or much more complicated plumbing fixes.  Fixtures where initial samples have produced elevated results are not returned to service for drinking purposes until confirmation samples have produced a result that is less than EPA recommended levels.

Additional Information: 

Drinking Water Management Plan

FAQ

Contact Western's Drinking Water Management Program

 

Lead in Drinking Water FAQ

While there is no federal law requiring universities to test their drinking water. Western determined it in the best interest of the campus community to test priority sites on campus. In the summer of 2019, Western’s Environmental Health and Safety (EHS) department commenced sampling of drinking water sources for lead concentration using EPA-recommended best practices. Over 900 locations have been sampled thus far. Testing was interrupted by the pandemic. EHS will resume testing in November, 2021 and the goal is now to complete sampling in the winter of 2021-22.  Please refer to the Drinking Water Management Plan for more information on sampling locations.  The summary of the results are as follows:

  • Approximately 94% of sample results are below the EPA action level of 15 parts per billion (ppb) of lead. 
  • Mitigation action steps for sources at or above 15 ppb depend on location
  • For a comprehensive list of locations tested in 2019-20 click here.  Sample results are in mg/L.  To convert to ppb, multiple figure by 1000.

Mitigation steps are taken to reduce the lead content in drinking water where elevated sample results have been observed. These steps can range from implementing a flushing program to help reduce lead levels that may increase while fixtures are not in use, cleaning aerators regularly, removing the fixture from service completely, replacing the fixture or much more complicated plumbing fixes.  Fixtures where initial samples have produced elevated results are not returned to service for drinking purposes until confirmation samples have produced a result that is less than EPA recommended levels.

Any drinking water locations that are found to have equal to or over the action level of 15 parts per billion (ppb) of lead in the sample will be signed to avoid drinking from that location. The fixtures where possible, will be replaced or they will be put out of service. If a fixture is replaced, confirmatory samples will be taken. If confirmation sample results are elevated, location will be signed accordingly until mitigation actions succeed.

Yes. Bathing, showering, or doing dishes should be safe even if the water contains lead over EPA's action level.  Human skin does not absorb lead in water. This information applies to most situations and to a large majority of the population, but individual circumstances may vary.

This is the level that has been shown to affect the general population health wise if consumed regularly and is called the action level.  By publishing both a maximum contaminant level goal of 0 ppb and an action level of 15 ppb the EPA simultaneously acknowledges that even the low concentration of 15 ppb could potentially be harmful to sensitive populations such as individuals who are immunocompromised, young children, and the elderly. 

The action level means that if lead levels at or above this amount are found, it is required by the EPA for building owners to make changes in a plumbing system in order to reduce the amount of lead in drinking water.  These changes could include replacing faucet fixtures or removing the drinking water source.

If you are concerned about your personal exposure and the affects of lead to your health please contact your regular healthcare provider.   

EPA has also published multiple outreach documents describing the hazards of lead in drinking water and precautions that can be taken.  More information can be found online: https://www.epa.gov/lead/protect-your-family-exposures-lead

Testing will be done every 5 years to monitor lead levels in drinking water sources. Once a building is renovated and the plumbing/fixtures are upgraded, confirmation samples will be taken to ensure the levels are below the drinking water action levels and then the building will be removed from the Drinking Water Management Program.

Since 2008, our first lead sampling endeavor, there have been few major infrastructure changes at the University which could affect the water quality. Combined with the fact that Bellingham's water sampling results have shown no issues in the 12 years which would advance the corrosion of any city or university plumbing the water quality at Western is thought to have remained stable during this time. We are now testing drinking water sources on campus to confirm this.

If a building was included in our first round of testing and is a typical drinking water source, such as water fountains, kitchen sinks, etc., the water is drinkable. As mentioned previously the main source of lead in drinking water at Western is due to the plumbing and fixtures. Drinking water sources that were found above the action level in 2008 were remediated or removed.  Other water locations such as bathroom sinks, were not tested unless it was identified as the only source of drinking water on a floor of a residence hall. A map and summary of previous sampling results can be be found here.

These locations are not considered common drinking water sources. It is not recommended to draw drinking water from any bathroom, classroom or laboratory water source. We advise folks to draw drinking water from available hydration stations, water fountains, or kitchen sinks. 

If a bathroom is the only available potable water in your area please contact EHS. 

Previously tested drinking water sources will be retested as part of the Drinking Water Management Plan, but are not first priority. The new sample collection and analysis project is expected to be completed by June 2020.