Northeastern Section - 56th Annual Meeting - 2021

Paper No. 9-5
Presentation Time: 5:10 PM


CARUSO, Emily, QUARLESS, Kayla and HOLLOCHER, Kurt, Geology Department, Union College, 807 Union Street, Schenectady, NY 12308-2311

Access to clean, potable drinking water is crucial for our society’s health and advancement. In 2014, the water crisis in Flint, Michigan shed light on the widespread water quality issues impacting numerous communities in the U.S. When Flint switched their water source from the Detroit system to the Flint River to save money, the residents were (predictably) exposed to water contaminated with heavy metals and pathogens. In response, Union College established the Union College Water Initiative, locally providing free drinking water testing for selected heavy metals in cold drinking water. This initiative aims to raise awareness and educate people by analyzing the heavy metals, specifically lead, copper, and zinc, and reporting the results back to the people providing the samples. Since the initiative began in 2017, the project has expanded to include more locations, and over 1000 samples have been analyzed from the northeastern U.S. and elsewhere. Samples include public, private, and filtered water collected from participants’ homes, schools, and businesses. Samples were analyzed by ICP-MS, and compared with US-EPA drinking water limits. The EPA maximum contaminant levels for copper, zinc, and lead in drinking water are 1300, 5000, and 15 ppb, respectively. Of the samples processed so far, 2% exceeded the copper limit (1311 to 7155 ppb), 2% exceeded the zinc limit (5158 to 42,444 ppb), and 5% exceeded the lead limit (16 to 1151 ppb). Though these are the reported elements, others are also analyzed for informational purposes. In central-east Massachusetts, we found some samples above the EPA limits for uranium (to 63 ppb, limit 30), arsenic (to 12.4 ppb, limit 10), cadmium (to 49 ppb, limit 5), and antimony (to 17.5 ppb, limit 6), from private wells, likely natural sources. Issues associated with heavy metal contamination of drinking water include numerous negative impacts on human health, such as kidney and liver damage, developmental delays and deficits in children, and increased cancer risk, among others. According to the United Nations, clean water and sanitation are essential to fulfilling all human rights. Further research into the sources of heavy metal contamination in particular areas will provide insight into health and equity issues, adding to our understanding of drinking water contamination across the U.S.