What’s the quality of Berkeley’s tap water?

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High lead levels were found in water fixtures at three San Francisco public schools in October, according to the San Francisco Unified School District, raising questions about the quality of Berkeley’s own tap water.

Some on UC Berkeley campus, such as undeclared first year students Dave Devavrat and Samana Gouhary, were not concerned about tap water on campus, but others, such as fourth year physics major Andrew Richter, felt otherwise.

“I don’t think it’s a good idea to drink out of public water fountains,” Richter said. “I’ve seen really dirty water fountains at other (East Bay) schools, so I don’t want to try my luck with these ones.”

UC Berkeley’s tap water is distributed by the East Bay Municipal Utility District, or EBMUD, according to campus spokesperson Janet Gilmore. In the 1990s, EBMUD, which distributes water to Berkeley and Oakland, removed all known lead service lines from its service area, according to their website.

Now, EBMUD is “double-checking” its records for any remaining lead service lines it needs to replace, according to EBMUD spokesperson Andrea Pook.

EBMUD also serves the Berkeley Unified School District, or BUSD. Preliminary tests at BUSD schools have not found problematic levels of lead in the water, and BUSD is working with EBMUD to conduct more extensive tests, according to BUSD spokesperson Charles Burress.

Lead contamination of water can come from the solder connecting pipes, faucets and service lines, according to Charlotte Smith, a campus public health lecturer. Service lines, which run into schools and homes, bring water from the lateral underground water lines that run perpendicular to the main lines under roads.

“If we were to come across a lead lateral line, (EBMUD) would replace it,” Pook said.

Pook added that every three years, EBMUD tests 55 “worst-case scenario” homes for lead. Of the last tests, 98 percent were within permissible levels as outlined by the Environmental Protection Agency.

Since March 2017, EBMUD has provided free lead testing for its customers upon request. So far, none of the water samples sent in have tested above the EPA’s stipulated 15 parts per billion threshold, according to Pook.

According to Smith, testing for lead often involves collecting a “first-draw sample” of water that has been in contact with plumbing overnight. This sample is then sent to a state-certified lab, where the lead test is performed.

Because UC Berkeley is not a public water system like EBMUD, it is not required to test its water for lead, Smith said. According to Gilmore, though, campus still takes action to ensure its tap water is safe.

Gilmore added that the vast majority of the campus’s water tests find no elevated lead levels. When elevated levels of lead are detected, the UC Berkeley Office of Environment, Health and Safety seeks a remedial solution, which can include replacing pipes or installing filters.

“Our campus tap water is safe,” Gilman said in an email. “The water comes from an excellent source in the Sierras to various EBMUD treatment plants where it is further processed … before it reaches our tap.”

Contact Matthew Lo at [email protected] and follow him on Twitter at @matthewlo_dc.

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  • SimpleWater

    We test a significant number of tap water samples in Berkeley and Oakland homes. We’ve found very low levels of arsenic and several other premises-related heavy metals, all in small concentrations. Most notably though we often detect higher than desirable concentrations of Trihalomethanes.

    If anyone has questions, you can reach out to us on our contact page: http://www.mytapscore.com we are a Berkeley-based water quality testing and treatment recommendation company.