'We didn't expect to find it': Presence of lead more widespread at UNC-Chapel Hill, tests show

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ByCindy Bae via WTVD logo
Wednesday, November 9, 2022
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The list of buildings with detectable levels of lead grow to now include Kenan Stadium and Dean Smith Center.

Without the usual time for a summer project, UNC Professor Drew Coleman had to think: what can high school students from Robeson County do at UNC-Chapel Hill on a tight schedule?

"It was a one month project, so we needed samples we could analyze really quickly and water samples are really quick," Coleman said. "I decided maybe the students would be interested in seeing that they're drinking clean water while they're here on campus."

But much to their surprise, the two samples that were the most concerning were from the Wilson Library and the South Building.

"We didn't expect to find it (lead)," Coleman said. "We collected huge samples because we thought there's going to be no lead here and we need to get some to analyze. But as soon as we started analyzing, we realized we had a lot of lead in the samples so we were completely taken aback by it."

Coleman found the presence of lead is more widespread as the list of buildings with detectable levels of lead grow to now include Kenan Stadium and Dean Smith Center.

"I think, probably, it suggests that there's problems elsewhere besides UNC campus," Coleman said. "Anybody with old fixtures and old water fountains has probably, should be looking at that lead in their water."

Coleman alerted the university in August, who took the reins since then with an "aggressive approach," to resolve this situation in phases.

The university said they're now in "Phase Three," inspecting water fixtures in buildings that were built in, or prior to 1990.

"They started with the most likely problem areas, and they're working to less and less likely problem areas now," Coleman said. "The university responded well. I think the students can take comfort that if they are drinking the water, it's going to be okay."

Although there are detectable levels of lead on campus, they're all below the EPA threshold for action, which is 15 ppb, or parts per billion.

"It was really great to see the students who came in not really believing that they could do science and doing this wonderful research that had a real impact into the community," post-doc research associate Michael Sandstrom said.