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Update on water quality at Memorial University

July 31, 2015

In a media briefing today, Kent Decker, vice-president (administration and finance), discussed the rationale behind the closure of Memorial University’s St. John’s campus and outlined the next steps the university will take as it works to resume regular operations.

“First and foremost, let me say that the health and safety of our employees, students and visitors are paramount. We have acted with an overabundance of caution in closing all of the buildings. We feel, until we have a clearer picture of the situation, this is the right thing to do,” said Mr. Decker.

Memorial University was closed on July 31 after receiving results that indicated higher than acceptable levels of lead in two buildings.  The buildings tested were Engineering and Applied Science, Music and Education. Levels were elevated in both Engineering (44 micrograms/litre) and Music (29 micrograms/litre), while levels in Education were below 10 micrograms/litre, which is within Canadian Drinking Water Guidelines for average lifetime exposure (http://www.hc-sc.gc.ca/ewh-semt/pubs/water-eau/sum_guide-res_recom/index-eng.php#t2).

Memorial’s water comes from the City of St. John’s water supply, which is tested regularly throughout the year, with no identified issues related to lead. The university supplements this testing with random water quality testing of its own as part of its ongoing commitment to the health and wellbeing of the university community. Mr. Decker said that in light of these results, the university will be implementing a regular testing program going forward.

“Once we received the results, we began testing and sampling right away,” said Darrell Miles, director, Facilities Management. “We are testing all 50 buildings where potable water is consumed on campus. We have engaged Maxxam Analytics in Halifax to analyze the samples. They are going to stay open this weekend to analyze these samples and we will continue to sample and forward them throughout the weekend. We have a team here working on collecting the samples and getting them quickly to Halifax.”

While testing continues, arrangements are underway to source and provide a supply of safe drinking water for all buildings. Fourteen of the chilled, filtered water stations on campus have been retrofitted with filters designed to remove lead. In buildings where those water stations are not available, bottled water or large-capacity water coolers are being brought in.  The tap water on campus is safe for washing hands, showering and washing dishes.

Dr. David Allison, chief medical officer of health for the province, spoke at the media briefing and provided reassurance that it would be extremely rare for this kind of lead exposure in water to result in any health effects.

“What we expect to see from a very small elevation in the lead in drinking water has very little consequence,” said Dr. Allison. “I would not expect to see any symptoms or signs. I think we have a long history of testing of the city water to know the source water is tested quarterly. We know the source water is excellent. There are normal fluctuations in the water that occur. What we have here are a number of results that need to be verified and assessed across buildings to understand where there are issues.”

It is expected that the university will be open for regular operations on Monday, Aug. 3. Updates will be shared as they become available via www.mun.ca and Memorial’s social media accounts (Twitter: @MemorialU, Facebook: Memorial University of Newfoundland).