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Don’t drink the water

Submitted by Cameron Moix on November 15, 2011 – 5:31 pm3 Comments

 

Water fountains in the EIT building feature signs warning people to not drink the water after the discovery of water contamination Oct. 24. Photo by Cameron Moix

Water fountains in the EIT building feature signs warning people to not drink the water after the discovery of water contamination Oct. 24. Photo by Cameron Moix

Water testing continues at the Engineering and Information Technology (EIT) building after the discovery of high levels of copper and lead contamination that was announced Oct. 24.

UALR Facilities Management, in partnership with Central Arkansas Water (CAW), continues to test the building’s water supply after the contaminants were discovered four weeks ago. The cause of the contamination has not been determined, according to David Millay, associate vice chancellor of facilities management.

The action levels were found during testing in response to reports of water discoloration, which Millay said has occurred sporadically since the building opened in fall 2010. “We haven’t tested it until recently — it just popped back up,” said Vince Rodgers, UALR Director of Environmental Safety. “It went unreported until recently.”

No students, faculty or staff members have been reported  effected by the contamination, but signs have been posted throughout the building informing the public not to drink the water.

Chris Arreola, a freshman information science major, said that he initially heard the news from a friend and later received an email about toxic levels in the water. Arreola said that he wasn’t sure of the specific contaminants or the problems it has caused. “I’ve just been told not to drink it,” he said. “There are signs above all of the water fountains.”

According to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) website, short term exposure to water exceeding the action level of copper (1.3 mg/L) can cause gastrointestinal distress, and long termexposure can cause liver and kidney damage. The website also states that prolonged exposure to water exceeding the action level of lead (.015 mg/L) can cause physical and mental developmental problems in infants and children, and kidney problems and high blood pressure in adults. Both contaminants can be caused by “corrosion of household plumbing systems or the erosion of natural deposits,” according to epa.gov.

“The levels are not repeatable, but were spotted once,” Millay said. “We’re just being safe.”

Vince Rodgers, UALR director of environmental health and safety, said that follow-up testing has shown no signs of such high levels. Rodgers said that he had considered the brown discoloration of the water potentially dangerous.

“Before the building was even turned over to us, there was brown water in the bathrooms,” Rodgers said. “It’s been a reoccurring and systemic problem.”

Rodgers said that several buildings on campus have been reported to have similar problems with water discoloration, the Reynolds Center being the most frequent. The new Center for Integrative Nanotechnology Sciences (CINS), which is scheduled for completion later this month, is also said to have an issue with water discoloration, according to Rodgers.

Rodgers said that he thinks the contamination is related to the water-heating process. They have only investigated the outside of the building so far, but are about to go inside, Rodgers said. “We have been testing at the meter and haven’t seen anything above action level,” Rodgers said, “we’re going to see if there are any dielectric issues  problems with dissimilar metals.”

CAW has recently taken samples of the contaminated water, which tested negative for anything above action level. CAW has also helped in an attempt to locate the source of the toxins.

“We have to take [dirty dishes] to the DSC washroom to wash them, but they only do dishes like twice a day,” said Carlita Edwards, an employee at Sub Connection cafe by Sodexo. “We can’t clean anything here; I guess it just has to be used dirty.” Edwards said that the cafe is not currently serving coffee because of the issue. “We can’t do anything; we can’t even wash our hands.”

Urinals in the EIT building also have signs that warn students to not drink the water. Photo by Cameron Moix

Urinals in the EIT building also have signs that warn students to not drink the water. Photo by Cameron Moix

The EIT Building was dedicated on Sept. 10, 2010. The ceremony occurred in the EIT auditorium and featured speeches from university and state officials including Gov. Mike Beebe, UALR Chancellor Joel E. Anderson, and Mary Good, EIT founding dean. Eric Sandgren assumed Good’s position as Dean of the Donaghey College of Engineering and Information Technology upon her retirement July 1.

“The six-story, 114,000-square-foot EIT building was designed to meet the U.S. Green Building Council’s Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design Green Building rating system,” according to the UALR website. “LEED standards focus on five key areas: sustainable site development, water savings, energy efficiency, materials selection, and indoor environmental quality.”

The EIT Building features such amenities as a high-performance computing cluster, 12 terraced classrooms, a 24-workstation computer lab, three server rooms, network and wireless telecom labs and a Sub Connection cafe by Sodexo.

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