UCSF Finds Most Drinking Water Sources Meet EPA Standards for Lead

By Lisa Cisneros

UC San Francisco continues to sample cold drinking water for lead across its campus and medical center locations in a voluntary testing program that began last summer.

The results of the water-quality tests conducted to date show that more than 800 sampling points tested across 376 various locations where water is consumed, all but 28 points have tested well below the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) recommended “action level” of 20 parts per billion (ppb).  

The 28 points that tested above the action level have either been remediated and are now operating at a level below 20 ppb, or are no longer serving as a drinking water source pending appropriate mitigation actions.

The water-testing program is being conducted in phases due to the sheer quantity of locations across the UCSF enterprise. The program is expected to continue through 2017.

All locations at the Mission Bay campus, where most buildings are 10 years or newer, have tested well below the EPA action level for lead. It is in some locations within older UCSF buildings at the Parnassus and Mount Zion campuses where test results are showing the signs of an aging infrastructure.

San Francisco, which supplies UCSF with its water, enjoys some of the best drinking water in the country, coming from rains and snow melt in the Hetch Hetchy reservoir.

“We voluntarily began this program last summer so we know – and our community knows – that the drinking water available across our campus meets EPA guidelines,” said UCSF Chancellor Sam Hawgood, MBBS.

Taking Actions Case by Case

UCSF has taken corrective actions on a case-by-case basis, such as providing bottled water while repairs are under way, adding water filters and replacing water fixtures and piping components.

UCSF is still working to fix a few areas where drinking water remains shut off or where water at that specific location has been limited to washing hands and dishes with signage that indicates that a particular water fountain or faucet is not to be used for drinking water. These areas include a few locations in Health Sciences East, two fixtures in the Lucia Child Care Center that are only accessible to adults, and in several pantry areas at Mount Zion.

Throughout the course of conducting the water-testing program, a Scientific Advisory Group comprised of experts from UCSF faculty, the San Francisco Department of Public Health (DPH) and the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission (PUC) have guided UCSF’s sampling and mitigation efforts. The group has recommended that UCSF test its drinking water every three to five years.

The water-testing program is being managed by a core group of UCSF managers including those at UCSF Office of Environmental Health & Safety (EH&S), Campus Life Services, Risk Management, Occupational Health, UCSF Health and University Relations. Travis Clark, who is project manager and an environmental compliance officer for EH&S, is working directly with campus and UCSF Health facilities teams to collect the samples and with the PUC.

The PUC, which provides water to 2.6 million customers throughout the Bay Area, has extensive experience in water testing. PUC representatives have worked with UCSF EH&S staff to ensure proper collection procedures and are analyzing and reporting the results for UCSF. Testing results are posted on the EH&S website.

“We appreciate the time and effort that our Scientific Advisory Group and partners at the PUC and the DPH have put into this water-testing effort at UCSF,” Clark said. “We have learned a great deal about how to go about testing the quality of water across our multi-sited University and we have refined our response in the process.”

Communicating Results

Throughout the testing process, UCSF has posted water testing results on the UCSF Office of Environmental Health & Safety website. More information, including the sampling schedule and frequently asked questions, are also posted on that website.

In addition, campus and medical center officials have met with members of the UCSF community and have communicated directly with individuals and departments that have questions and concerns about results and mitigation efforts. Questions and comments about the water-testing program may be directed via email to [email protected]

UCSF is not required to test the quality of its drinking water, however, UCSF leaders decided to proactively take steps to ensure the drinking water it serves faculty, staff, students, patients and visitors meets EPA standards.

The program began in June 2016 with pilot tests of drinking water at UCSF-owned buildings serving high-priority populations in areas such as campus housing, childcare centers and where publicly accessible water fountains and water-bottle filling stations are located in the oldest buildings on the Parnassus campus.

UCSF is using the EPA’s latest guidelines for lead in drinking water available. The guidelines, outlined in the EPA’s document “3Ts for Reducing Lead in Drinking Water in Schools,” 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.