CFA Position on Lead Contamination in Drinking Water at CSU Sacramento
April 24, 2017


This is a long note but please take the time to review it as there is important information that potentially affects all faculty and our campus community. Nothing is more important to us than our family’s health and well-being.  But the actions so far taken by the University do not indicate that it shares that priority. Below I outline the current state of affairs with contaminated drinking water, and share our proposals to remedy this problem.

As you may recall, six weeks ago CFA filed a collective grievance on behalf of all affected faculty over the presence of lead in the drinking water on campus (under Article 37 of our contract, “Safety”). 

The administration first notified the campus community of this problem in late January, but according to faculty who were involved as well the State Hornet, management has known about this problem for possibly a year, and perhaps even longer.

Out of urgent concern about health and environmental safety for faculty, staff, students, and children on campus, we requested information from the administration about what was known, what was not yet known, and what the remediation plan was.  

The response was, to put it nicely, underwhelming.  As you can see from the administration’s response to our information requests (without attachments here and follow-up here) they have refused to answer the most basic questions or relay to us any plans for addressing this problem, using the same officious and obtuse phrase for every answer: “The University objects on the ground that this request is vague and overbroad.” At this point, we can only conclude that if management thinks a request for them to publicize their remediation plan is an overly broad or vague question, then they simply must have no plan.

What the administration did share with us are the results from testing done by a team of faculty and students led by Dr. Jeffrey Foran of the Environmental Studies Department and some subsequent testing. We urge you to examine the results for the buildings that you frequent by with the following links:

-Results from January, 2017  (Apologies for the Small Font)
-Results from the Children’s Center
-Results from California Laboratory Services (Mostly UEI Building, but includes Placer and Folsom).

This situation calls for clear communication and free sharing of information, not holding back information, obfuscation, or backpedaling.  The administration by now should have learned this lesson from recent water contamination debacles in Flint, MI and elsewhere.

What these results show is that approximately 85% of the drinking water sources on campus have detectable levels of lead in them, including both water fountains and kitchenette sinks.  Fountains and sinks with lead concentrations greater than 5 ppb (parts per billion) were shut off, and others that are currently being tested remain shut as well.  Much of the lead contamination is likely from fixtures, which can leach lead into water, but some of the contamination may come from building or underground piping.  Testing was not conducted on sinks in restrooms as the university considers these sinks to be for hand washing only, not for bottle filling, preparation of coffee, etc. This is likely startling news to water bottle fillers and coffee brewers across campus. 

Dr. Foran has generously offered his availablility to answer questions at a Townhall meeting CFA has organized for the campus community on Wednesday 5/10 from Noon to 1:00 pm in Sequoia 338. We will discuss the campus situation, what we can do to protect ourselves, and what we can do as a collective to make certain that our campus is a healthy and safe place to work and to learn.

Now, a word about lead levels and what is safe. According to the EPA, water treatment facilities must take corrective action if lead levels rise above 15 parts per billion (ppb). For commercial food products and beverages the tolerance level for lead is 5 ppb. The State of California has established a goal to protect public health of no more than 0.2 ppb of lead in drinking water.  So far, the administration’s communications have emphasized the 15 ppb level, but this is inappropriate—the University is not a water treatment facility.  Our campus is also not a corporation that produces commercial food or beverages.  The State of California’s 0.2 ppb level to protect public health is clearly the threshold that we should pursue in remediating this problem.

We believe this to be true not just because the State of California has a long and trusted history of having more stringent environmental health and safety standards, but because science tells us that lead poses a significant health threat even at very low, sub-ppb levels.   According to a robust literature, environmental health and safety scientists have concluded that there is no safe level of lead contamination in drinking water. (Citations and links for more information can be found at the end of this note.) Lead contamination is of utmost significance for developing humans, from gestation through college age.  But lead poisoning in adults can cause varied problems including cancer and high blood pressure, and lead can accumulate in adult bones and can re-enter blood during pregnancy.  It goes without saying that we are a community of diverse ages, genders, abilities, and existing medical conditions; how lead may affect us as individuals may be wide-ranging.

Given this state of affairs, we propose to the University the following remedies that would satisfactorily resolve our grievance in the near-term time frame:

1. Immediately shut down all water fountains with any detectable lead contamination. Provide safe drinking water stations or bottled water through the end of the term in those areas.
2. Immediately and on an on-going basis, provide medical testing and treatment for faculty and their children who reasonably believe that they were exposed to lead contaminated water on campus.
3. Immediately and on an on-going basis, provide up-to-date information to the campus community as to the status and results of all testing for lead contamination.
4. As soon as possible, but before the beginning of Fall term, install permanent lead-free water stations in every building, with multiples in high traffic buildings.  Test these stations on a regular basis, or at least every six months.
5. As soon as possible, but before the beginning of Fall term, install signs over all bathroom sinks indicating that the water is not meant for human consumption. 
6. As soon as possible, but before the beginning of Fall term, install lead filtration on all sinks that could reasonably be used to fill a water bottle, coffee pot, or similar drinking device.  Establish a regular replacement regimen.
7. As soon as is practicable, investigate and replace any building infrastructure or underground piping that is responsible for lead contamination.

We believe that these are the most reasonable approaches to this urgent issue. Anything less and our campus community will remain at risk for continued lead contamination on a daily basis, and that is unacceptable.
In Solidarity,
Kevin Wehr
CFA Capitol Chapter President
PS: The townhall meeting on 5/10 from Noon to 1:00 pm in Sequoia 338 is the perfect venue to get some of your questions answered.

PPS: If you’re not yet a CFA member, please join.

Citations and more information

Carlisle, JC and K. Dowling.  2006. A blood lead benchmark for assessing risks from childhood lead exposure.  J. Environ. Sci. Health, Part A. 44:1200-1208

Lanphear, B.P., R. Hornung, J. Khoury, and K. Yolton. 2005.  Low-level environmental lead exposure and children’s intellectual function: An international pooled analysis.  Environ. Health Perspect. 113:894-899

State Hornet “Excess lead found in several campus water sources” 25 January 2017

State Hornet “Sac State won’t release locations of untested water after lead discovery” 15 February 2017

State Hornet “Lead contamination of campus water goes back further than previously indicated” 2 March 2017 

Centers for Disease Control Information Sheet

Foran team testing results