UCSF Launches Water Testing Program Across Campus

By Lisa Cisneros

In light of the recent national focus on lead in water, UC San Francisco is taking voluntary, proactive steps to test the quality of drinking water at its campus and medical center locations to ensure that lead levels are within the standards recommended by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). 

UCSF Water Testing Resources


To see results of the water testing, go to UCSF's Environment, Health & Safety website.

Town Hall Meeting

UCSF held a town hall on Aug. 8 to discuss the water testing program and preliminary results to date. Watch a recording of the meeting.


Email [email protected]

UCSF is not required to test the quality of its drinking water as either a university or medical center. However, UCSF decided to take this step as a health sciences leader and implement what is now considered to be an institutional best practice on campus.

“We are committed to ensuring a healthy environment for our faculty, staff, students, patients and visitors,” said UCSF Chancellor Sam Hawgood, MBBS. “While water has not been found to be a significant source of lead in San Francisco, even in children who have experienced lead poisoning, we want to ensure that our facilities meet the EPA’s environmental standards.”

The project began this summer with pilot tests of UCSF drinking water in locations serving high-priority areas, such as campus housing and publicly accessible water fountains and water-bottle filling stations in the oldest buildings on the Parnassus campus.

The preliminary results of UCSF’s pilot tests have shown that most water sources are safe. However, recent tests have detected elevated levels of lead in some drinking fountains and bottle-filling stations in Health Sciences East (HSE) and Health Sciences West (HSW). As a result, UCSF has turned off the water to all affected outlets throughout both buildings until Facilities Services makes the repairs and the water is subsequently tested to be within the EPA-recommended standard. In the meantime, UCSF is providing bottled water to affected areas where water has been shut off in HSE and HSW.

Testing of all UCSF childcare centers – at Parnassus, Laurel Heights and Mission Bay campuses – will occur when the facilities are closed for a weeklong summer recess on Aug. 29. Lab analysis will be expedited during this period to allow for immediate corrective actions, if necessary.

UCSF will take immediate corrective steps if results from the sampled drinking water locations exceed the EPA’s recommended lead “action level” of 20 parts per billion (ppb) for schools and childcare centers. These are the latest guidelines for lead in end-user drinking water available, and were developed to address the potential for elevated lead levels in drinking water in K-12 schools, as children are most susceptible to health effects of lead. These guidelines are outlined in the EPA’s document “3Ts for Reducing Lead in Drinking Water in Schools."

In accordance with EPA guidelines, UCSF’s assessment involves sampling and testing cold drinking water locations on UCSF-owned property. Other locations, such as leased properties, may be sampled at a later time, based on recommendations from a Scientific Advisory Group convened by UCSF to guide the water-testing program. The group, consisting of public health and water quality experts, has recommended that UCSF test its drinking water every three to five years.

The testing is being conducted by UCSF’s Office of Environmental Health & Safety, which is charged with developing and implementing proper health and safety procedures. The San Francisco Public Utilities Commission (PUC) is analyzing the water samples and reporting the results to UCSF. The PUC provides water to 2.6 million customers throughout the Bay Area, including UCSF, and has extensive experience in water testing.

Guidance for Reducing Lead Exposure in Water

UCSF’s water testing program offers an opportunity to raise public awareness about the potential health risks posed by lead.

Individuals can take their own measures to reduce or eliminate lead in their tap water at home by following advice by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

  • Before using any tap water for drinking or cooking, flush the water system by running the kitchen tap (or any other tap used for drinking or cooking water) on cold for 30 seconds to two minutes.
  • Drink or cook only with cold tap water, since hot or warm tap water may contain higher levels of lead.

In the event that lead levels are detected above the EPA’s action level of 20 ppb at a sampling point, such as a public drinking fountain or kitchen sink, UCSF will – under advisement of its Scientific Advisory Group, Risk Management and Occupational Health – inform members of the UCSF community about the results and take immediate corrective actions to reduce levels below 20 ppb. These remedies will be ongoing and made on a case-by-case basis, ranging from temporary measures, such as shutting off problem outlets to providing bottled water while repairs are under way, to more permanent steps such as replacing water fixtures and pipes.

Upon completion of the pilot testing, UCSF will continue with the entire water testing program covering more than 100 UCSF-owned buildings across campus and medical center locations. Due to the quantity and diversity of UCSF’s buildings, which are located throughout San Francisco and beyond, testing will be conducted in phases and is expected to take about nine months to complete.

UCSF will inform the campus community and the broader public about the water testing results and corrective actions through various communications channels. These include the EH&S website, where results and testing locations will be posted, as well as notices to building occupants, where necessary. In addition, the members of Scientific Advisory Group and others will answer questions through [email protected]

UCSF advises those who have specific questions or concerns about their own individual health to consult with their medical care providers.

For more campus news and resources, visit Pulse of UCSF.