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OWASA continues testing, monitoring after lead found in UNC water fountains


Wilson Library overlooks UNC's campus on Sept. 20, 2022.

After detectable levels of lead were found in water from several drinking fountains in UNC campus facilities last month, Orange Water and Sewer Authority is continuing contaminant testing in the community and supporting UNC in finding solutions, according to a September press release.

Since the discovery of contaminants in some water fountains on campus, Blake Hodge, the communications specialist at OWASA, has been updating the community with information on the OWASA website and social media, as well as talking directly with customers. 

“We certainly understand their concern when we take our responsibility, providing safe, healthy drinking water to customers, very seriously,” Hodge said. 

Hodge stated in a Sept. 21 press release that the presence of lead in water in UNC's facilities does not mean the substance is present in drinking water in all parts of the community. 

OWASA serves Chapel Hill, Carrboro and portions of southern Orange County, including all of UNC's campus. In the press release, Hodge said OWASA will continue to support UNC in its efforts to address the issue and investigate locations where lead was detected.

While OWASA's water system is not known to contain any lead pipes, contaminants can still enter the water as a result of corrosion of plumbing materials, according to OWASA's website. 

The Safe Drinking Water Act’s Lead and Copper Rule was revised in December 2021 to further protect communities from contaminants. 

The rule, enacted and enforced by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, states the maximum concentration of lead in a sample of drinking water should not exceed 15 parts per billion.  

“Water quality is something we should never take for granted as a rule,” Lisa Chisholm, Orange County resident and longtime OWASA customer, said. “I think no matter where you live, it's really important to trust in whatever municipal system you rely on for water.” 

OWASA plans to adhere to the new guidelines brought by the updated Lead and Copper Rule by the end of 2024.

Besides conducting regular testing in Orange County, OWASA is working with UNC to gather information on the issue and remediate the contaminants presented. 

Caroline Butler, a sophomore at UNC, said she is concerned about the lead in campus water.

"It's really scary," Butler said. "It definitely speaks to the lack of consideration about the overall health of the student body and faculty."

A student who lives in Spencer Hall, which is 98 years old, Butler said she was frightened by how the crisis is being managed and by the scarce availability of water. 

"The water fountains are blocked off," she said, "There's really no option for water for us other than going to a different dorm."

At the moment, dangerous levels of lead have only been found in water in certain buildings at UNC. 

While testing of the student living facilities' sinks and drinking fountains is underway, residents of the dorms have been told to only use the water for activities such as washing dishes or brushing their teeth. 

OWASA offers free lead and copper testing kits for customers by request. To request a kit, contact the laboratory staff at (919) 537-4228 or

@DTHCityState | 

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