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Sacramento Appropriately Responded to the Discovery of Elevated Levels of Lead in Drinking Water Sources on Its Campus
As we mention in the Introduction, in March 2016, two Sacramento faculty members began a classroom project that eventually identified high lead levels in a number of campus drinking‑water sources. The CSU employees union and members of the Legislature indicated that Sacramento waited 10 months to inform the campus community about the high levels of lead. However, our assessment found that the campus acted appropriately and promptly. Specifically, after testing 42 drinking water sources beginning in March 2016, which continued through that summer, the two faculty members identified one drinking source with elevated levels of lead that, nonetheless, fell below the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) action level of 15 parts per billion (ppb). In August 2016, the faculty members notified campus officials, who shut off the fountain despite the fact that the lead levels were below 15 ppb and therefore did not require the campus to take any action. In January 2017, at the request of the campus, the faculty members completed a second round of testing that included about 450 drinking water sources and identified 27 sources that had levels of lead above the EPA’s action level. Upon being notified, campus officials immediately closed these drinking water sources. The campus then consulted with city and county officials and, less than two weeks after closing the 27 water sources, notified the campus community of the high levels of lead.
The campus also hired a third‑party consultant to conduct additional tests of drinking water on campus. Of the 782 sources that the contractor tested, 43 tested over 15 ppb, and Sacramento closed these sources down immediately in May 2017. By July 2017, Sacramento officials had replaced all drinking water sources that had been identified as having high levels of lead. In January 2018, the campus announced that it was in the process of adding labels containing bar codes to drinking fountains on campus. The labels allow the campus community to scan the code and view the most recent test results for that specific drinking fountain. In that same month, after aggregating the data, campus officials concluded that no drinking water sources were now above the EPA action level and that 94 percent of the drinking water sources were at or below the more stringent Food and Drug Administration’s guidelines for lead in bottled water. Table A shows the timeline of events related to the discovery of lead in the campus drinking water supply, including the campus’s response.
Timeline of Key Events Related to Sacramento’s Response to the Discovery of Lead in Campus Drinking Water Sources
|Date||Summary of Event||Sacramento’s Response|
|March 2016||Two professors from Sacramento began a project in which they and two students sampled 42 drinking water sources at eight buildings on campus. This testing continued through the summer.|
|August 12, 2016||The professors first shared with Sacramento’s EH&S office the findings from their first phase of the project. None of their results were above the EPA’s action level of 15 ppb. However, one fountain had a lead level of 8.86 ppb, which is below the EPA action level but above the recommended level in bottled water according to the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). The professors shared with the campus the results from an independent contractor that verified their results.||Out of caution, the campus shut off the fountain with a lead level of 8.86 ppb.|
November 17, 2016
November 18, 2016
|Staff notified the campus president that the EH&S office had conducted additional testing in October 2016 at the Children’s Center, a child‑care program on campus. The EH&S office reported that it collected 18 samples and that two samples from drinking fountains tested positive for lead, but below the EPA action level.||According to campus officials, the Children’s Center staff immediately shut off the fountains even though neither water source tested above the EPA action level.|
January 6, 2017
January 12, 2017
|The campus requested, and provided funding for, the professors and their students to conduct a second round of testing. The professors and students tested about 450 water sources, including sinks, drinking fountains, faucets, filtered refrigerator spouts, and bottle‑filling stations across campus.|
|January 13, 2017||Staff notified the campus president that the additional testing identified 27 drinking water sources with lead levels above the EPA action level of 15 ppb.||According to Sacramento officials, staff immediately shut down all drinking water sources that tested above 15 ppb.|
January 17, 2017
January 24, 2017
|Sacramento officials stated that the campus president met with staff from Risk Management Services, one of the professors, and the EH&S office. He also consulted with the county of Sacramento and the city of Sacramento about the steps the campus should take next. The campus kept all drinking water sources over 15 ppb shut down and the campus community was not notified until after consulting with the city and county.|
|January 25, 2017||The Office of the Vice President for Administration notified the campus community about the results of the additional testing, explaining that campus staff had turned off the identified sources of drinking water that contained elevated levels of lead and that testing would continue, since all sources of drinking water on campus had not yet been sampled. The office also announced that bottled water was available for the campus community at designated locations.|
|January 26, 2017||The campus hosted a town hall meeting in which a doctor of occupational medicine and a public health officer from the county of Sacramento answered questions.|
|February 7, 2017||Campus officials posted an update on Sacramento’s website explaining that the new interim senior director for risk management services/chief risk officer had been meeting with licensed health and safety consultants to formulate an action plan to address the issues that the water quality testing identified. Further, campus officials stated that in the meantime, it had shut off all drinking water sources.|
|February 21, 2017||The Office of the Vice President for Administration updated the campus community by stating that the campus had completed testing of all drinking and food‑ preparation water sources at all campus dining establishments and that all these sources tested below the EPA action level. California Laboratory Services, a third‑party consulting firm, performed the testing and analysis.|
|February 28, 2017||The Office of the Vice President for Administration updated the campus community by explaining that the campus had hired California Industrial Hygiene Services Inc. (CIH) to perform additional testing and lab analysis of drinking water sources, which would commence in early March and take several weeks.|
|April 14, 2017||The Office of the Vice President for Administration notified the campus community that the testing of drinking water sources was taking longer than previously anticipated and that the campus expected the testing to be complete by early May.|
|April 27, 2017||The Office of the Vice President for Administration notified the campus community that campus officials anticipated being able to share the results of the testing and the campus’s action plan with the community in the next two weeks and that the campus would be scheduling a campus forum for those who had questions after reviewing the documents. The announcement also provided an update on the results of the testing to date.|
|May 8, 2017||The results of further testing identified that 43 of 782 drinking water sources had lead levels above the EPA action level.||The Office of the Vice President for Administration shared with the campus community the completed testing results. The campus immediately closed the 43 water sources that had over 15 ppb.|
|May 15, 2017||The campus hosted an open forum with a public health officer from Sacramento County to discuss the testing results in greater detail.|
|May through July 2017||The EH&S office replaced the fixtures that were above 15 ppb.|
|August 23, 2017||The professor continued to sample drinking water sources and found three drinking water sources with lead above the EPA action level.||The Office of the Vice President for Administration sent an announcement to the campus community notifying them that over the summer, a professor and his students collected 300 water samples across campus, and their preliminary results indicated that three drinking water sources contained levels of lead above 15 ppb. Campus officials stated that the campus’s Facilities Management shut off the three drinking water sources. The campus announced it would contract with a third‑party consultant to test the drinking water sources identified by the professor.|
|September 29, 2017||CIH reported that the water sources the professor identified as containing levels of lead above the EPA action level were below the EPA action level. The difference in the results were due to differing testing methods. CIH used standard EPA protocol.|
|January 10, 2018||The campus aggregated the data generated by water testing CIH performed. The data demonstrated that no drinking water sources were above the EPA action level and 94 percent of the drinking water sources were at or below FDA guidelines for bottled water.|
|January 16, 2018||The campus announced that a water database was available to the public and described a coding system that Risk Management Services was in the process of installing on the drinking fountains. The coding system allows the public to scan codes on labels placed on the drinking fountain to confirm the drinking water sources’ most recent test results.|
|January 24, 2018||Risk Management Services added labels to nearly all of the drinking water fountains on campus.|
Source: California State Auditor’s review of available documentation provided by campus officials and interviews with key staff.
Survey of Instructional Support Assistants and Technicians from all California State University Campuses
The Audit Committee asked us to survey laboratory instructional support assistants and technicians (support technicians) to obtain a general overview of the health and safety climates at the campuses and to receive staff perspective on laboratory conditions and compliance with existing laws and regulations. We received contact information from the Chancellor’s Office for support technicians at all CSU campuses with the exception of California State University Maritime Academy (Maritime). The list with contact information that the Chancellor’s Office provided noted that Maritime did not have any support technicians with exposure to hazardous materials, which we confirmed with Maritime’s director of risk management. The Chancellor’s Office identified 447 support technicians at the remaining 22 campuses whose work exposes them to hazardous materials. Of these 447 individuals, 244—representing all 22 campuses—completed our survey. Figure B highlights key statistics from the 244 completed surveys.
A Snapshot of Our Survey of Support Technicians
Source: California State Auditor’s analysis of responses to a health and safety survey it administered to CSU support technicians.
*Based on responses from all 244 respondents.
†Based on responses from 193 support technicians whom the Chancellor’s Office indicated worked in biology, chemistry, engineering, physics, and art departments, or whom the Chancellor’s Office indicated worked in natural sciences. We present the results for these specific departments because these are the departments on which we focused our audit work.
Overall, the results of our survey indicate that a significant number of those who responded believe that the campuses could do more to establish health and safety as a priority. As Table B.1 shows, 31 respondents (13 percent) believe that their campuses do not provide healthy and safe work environments. In fact, some individuals commented that they believe their work environments have negatively affected their health. In addition, some respondents stated that their campuses have been slow to respond to or have not followed up on complaints they have made regarding what they believed were hazardous or unsafe working conditions.