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The main UNC-Chapel Hill campus receives its tap water from the Orange Water and Sewer Authority (OWASA). OWASA’s water supply originates as rainfall within the Cane Creek and University Lake watersheds.

Sept. 26 Update on Lead in Campus Drinking Water

September 26, 2022

Over the past month, Environment, Health and Safety has been testing water fixtures across campus for lead levels and received results back that there is detectable lead in multiple buildings.

Below on this page you will find a list of all the buildings with these fixtures, which links to the notifications that have been sent to the building occupants. We will post updates to this page as we have them. In addition, we will send updates on the new EHS Twitter channel @unc_ehs. Please follow that account to stay informed.

For questions and further information, please refer to the FAQs included on this web page. Additional questions can be directed to Environment, Health and Safety at 919-962-5507.

Building Notifications

Contacts

General questions about the ongoing investigation can be directed to Environment, Health and Safety at 919-962-5507.

If you are an employee and have further health-related concerns, please contact the University Employee Occupational Health Clinic at 919-966-9119.

If you are a student and have concerns, please contact Campus Health at 919-966-2281.

If you are a visitor or community member and have concerns, please contact your health care provider.

Other Resources

Previous Updates

We understand that the news about lead in some drinking water sources at UNC-Chapel Hill is concerning. Environment, Health and Safety (EHS) at UNC-Chapel Hill is actively working to determine the extent of the problem and to develop solutions. The University is also coordinating with OWASA on these efforts.

Drinking water contaminated with lead can be harmful to health, especially for small children and pregnant women. This information is designed to provide resources on the health impacts from lead exposure, information on lead testing at UNC-Chapel Hill, and steps for addressing lead in drinking water.

How do I know if there is lead in my drinking water?
According to the United States Environmental Protection Agency (US-EPA), testing drinking water is the only way to confirm whether lead is present.  According to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the best way to know if there is lead in drinking water is to identify potential sources and test the water. You cannot see, taste, or smell lead in drinking water.
How does lead get into drinking water?
According to the CDC, lead can enter drinking water when a chemical reaction occurs in plumbing materials that contain lead. This is known as corrosion – dissolving or wearing away of metal from the pipes and fixtures. Lead in water can come from lead components and lead service lines that connect buildings to the main water line. Orange Water And Sewer Authority’s (OWASA) water distribution system has no known lead pipes. OWASA looked for and removed lead goosenecks connecting different sections of pipe from the water system in the 1990s.

Even without lead service lines, buildings may have brass or chrome-plated brass faucets, galvanized iron pipes, or other plumbing soldered with lead.

What is UNC-Chapel Hill doing to remedy the problem?
When lead is suspected in a drinking water source, the water source is flagged with a warning sign. Testing is then performed, and if lead is detected, then building occupants are notified and the water source is removed from service.

Due to the large number of fixtures, EHS is approaching water testing in phases, and testing is expected to last multiple weeks. Phase one focused on water fixtures that potentially contain lead components based on their age. Phase two will focus on buildings that were built prior to 1930. Phase three will focus on buildings that were built prior to 1990.

What are the potential health effects of lead exposure?
According to the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR), health effects from exposure to lead are influenced by several factors including the age of the individual, the lead levels and length of exposure. Prolonged exposure to lead in adults may lead to neurological and cardiovascular symptoms, as well as an increased risk of kidney disease and reproductive disorders.

  • Neurological symptoms: Adults exposed to lead as adults may experience neuropathy, with symptoms including numbness, “pins and needles sensation,” and weakness in limbs. Lead-exposed adults may also experience many of the neurological symptoms experienced by children, but shown at higher blood lead levels.
  • Cardiovascular symptoms: Exposure to lead has been linked to headaches and increased blood pressure/hypertension. Sustained high blood pressure may in turn lead to increased risk of stroke, heart disease, and peripheral arterial disease.
  • Kidney disease: Exposure to lead has been associated with decreased renal function.
  • Reproductive disorders: Evidence shows that exposure to lead is associated with reduced sperm count, reduced fetal growth, lower birth weight, and the development of eclampsia and pre-eclampsia during pregnancy.
What should I do if I am concerned that I have potentially been exposed to lead?
If you are an employee with health concerns, please contact the University Employee Occupational Health Clinic at 919-966-9119. If you are a student and have concerns, please contact Campus Health at 919-966-2281. Non-student and non-employee community members and visitors who have health concerns should consult with their physicians.
Are you providing health testing?
The University has health testing for lead available to all UNC-Chapel Hill faculty, staff and students who work or study in the affected buildings. Lead level blood testing is provided if recommended and ordered by campus medical providers based on suspected exposure and health conditions, such as pregnancy and communicated symptoms.

To get tested, please follow the instructions below.

  • For students and post-doctoral fellows:
    • Contact Campus Health at 919-966-2281.
    • Appointments are generally available within 1-2 days.
    • If ordered by a campus medical provider, blood specimens are collected by Campus Health staff and are sent to Campus Health’s reference laboratory, LabCorp, for testing.
    • Turnaround time for test results is generally 2-3 days and test results are published on students’ Healthy Heels portal along with any additional instructions from providers based on any elevated lead level results.
    • Testing is provided to all students and post-doctoral fellows at no charge.
  • For faculty and staff:
    • Contact the University Employee Occupational Health Clinic (UEOHC) at 919-966-9119.
    • Appointments are generally available within 2-3 days (contingent on patient schedule).
    • Blood specimens are collected by UEOHC staff and are sent to LabCorp for testing.
    • Turnaround time for test results is generally 2-3 days and test results are communicated to staff members via UEOHC Occupational Health Nurse.
    • There is no charge to faculty and staff.
What is the treatment for elevated lead levels in the blood?
There is no specific treatment for elevated lead levels. If an individual’s elevated blood level is associated with symptoms, then medical providers may recommend treatments for these symptoms. As an example, if an individual with an elevated lead level is experiencing headaches, then a provider may recommend treatment perhaps inclusive of medication to address the headache. This treatment would not be intended to lower the elevated lead level.
Are you testing the water fixtures in the childcare centers?
According to North Carolina state law, the water fixtures in childcare centers have to be tested for lead. The following links provide information on the most recent testing of water fixtures in UNC-Chapel Hill’s affiliated childcare centers:

What types of fixtures are being tested in buildings?
EHS is prioritizing testing for lead in typical drinking water sources such as drinking fountains, breakroom/kitchen sinks, and ice machines. Restroom sinks do not undergo testing unless there is no other source of drinking water available in the building.

EHS is approaching the current testing in phases, and testing is expected to last several weeks. Phase one focused on water fixtures that potentially contain lead components based on manufacturer make and model. Remaining buildings are prioritized based on dates of construction. Phase two will focus on buildings that were built prior to 1930. Phase three will focus on buildings that were built prior to 1990.

How often are water fountains on campus tested?
There are no federal or state regulations requiring colleges and universities to test for lead in drinking water sources. Drinking water has previously been tested by request when a building occupant has a concern about water quality.

EHS is approaching the current testing in phases, and testing is expected to last several weeks. Phase one focused on water fixtures that potentially contain lead components based on manufacturer make and model. Remaining buildings are prioritized based on dates of construction. Phase two will focus on buildings that were built prior to 1930. Phase three will focus on buildings that were built prior to 1990.

Are restroom sinks shut off when lead is found?
No. Lead cannot be absorbed through the skin. So, restroom sinks can still be used for washing hands and therefore will not be shut off. If a sink is being tested or has tested positive for lead, it will have a sign advising against drinking from or brushing teeth in that sink.
Can lead be found in newer fixtures as well?
In 2007, UNC-Chapel Hill experienced elevated lead levels in drinking water due to brass fittings installed during then-recent renovations and in newly constructed buildings. As a result, UNC-Chapel Hill has developed a flushing protocol upon the completion of renovations or new construction to reduce the levels below the National Primary Drinking Water Standard before the areas or buildings are occupied. Typically, the problem disappears within six months of normal use.

Lead pipe and lead solder were banned in 1986 by amendments to the Safe Drinking Water Act. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (USEPA)’s Lead and Copper Rule requires public water utilities, such as Orange Water And Sewer Authority (OWASA), to include corrosion control in their water treatment protocol sufficient to prevent lead leaching from pipes, solder, or fittings. The rule requires OWASA to test a representative sample of the community periodically to ensure compliance. OWASA’s water distribution system has no known lead pipe service lines. OWASA has always been in compliance with the Lead and Copper Rule, and you can see more information on OWASA’s testing results on the OWASA website.

Where can I go for more information?

Lead in Drinking Water Regulations

Lead in campus drinking water is attributed to three sources: Lead pipe, lead solder and leaded brass fittings. Lead pipe and lead solder were banned in 1986 by amendments to the Safe Drinking Water Act, promulgated by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (USEPA). Also, the USEPA Lead and Copper Rule requires public water utilities (OWASA) to include corrosion control in their water treatment protocol sufficient to prevent lead leaching from pipes, solder or fittings. The rule requires OWASA to test a representative sample of the community periodically to ensure compliance. OWASA has passed all Lead and Copper Rule tests. OWASA states that there are no known lead service lines in their territory.

Lead Water Testing for New Construction

In the past, UNC-Chapel Hill has experienced elevated lead levels in drinking water due to the brass fittings, specifically, newer fittings installed during recent renovations and in newly constructed buildings. Typically, the problem disappears within six months of normal use. As a result, UNC-Chapel Hill has developed a flushing protocol upon the completion of renovations or new construction to reduce the levels below the National Primary Drinking Water Standard before the areas or buildings are occupied.

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