Get the lead out

NMU temporarily closes three buildings for comprehensive water testing

Northern Michigan University has temporarily closed the PEIF, Thomas Fine Arts and the Learning Resources Center, as of Wednesday afternoon. The three buildings are closed for comprehensive water testing, as some water samples collected in a limited test had inconsistent lead level readings, with some samples showing elevated lead levels.

MARQUETTE — Northern Michigan University temporarily closed the PEIF, Thomas Fine Arts and the Learning Resources Center Wednesday afternoon as a precautionary measure after water testing showed inconsistent lead level readings, with some water samples showing elevated levels of lead.

The buildings will remain closed until the university receives testing result, but are currently slated to reopen Monday, officials said.

While the university is not required by the Environmental Protection Agency to close the buildings, officials said it will facilitate and expedite further testing of the water in those buildings.

“We decided if we closed the buildings, we could accelerate the testing process. The testing process requires flushing of the water system for six hours,” said Derek Hall, chief marketing officer at NMU.

Hall said TriMedia Environmental & Engineering Services handled the initial testing and complete the followup analysis for the university.

A sign on the door of the PEIF notifies users and employees of the temporary closure. According to university officials, the buildings are currently slated to reopen Monday. (Journal photos by Cecilia Brown)

At 5 p.m. Wednesday, Hall said the six-hour flushing process was to begin shortly, then they would wait the required eight hours after flushing to collect comprehensive water samples from the buildings.

This morning, Hall said samples were being collected and “all has gone as planned.”

The comprehensive samples will be shipped to an independent laboratory for testing, which has a 24-hour turnaround time on laboratory results.

Hall said the comprehensive testing of samples was needed because the initial testing was not “comprehensive throughout each building” and showed inconsistent lead levels in samples tested, with some showing elevated lead levels.

“The testing in these three buildings that we’re dealing with today, not every sample came back high,,” he said. “It was kind of random.”

Hall said they did not find a pattern in the area or types of water sources that had elevated readings.

If comprehensive testing shows some water sources in the buildings contain elevated lead levels, Hall said they will investigate each source and develop a plan to address the issue.

“We’re dealing with older buildings, and so if we do find individual spots that have issues, we’ll have to investigate each one of those,” he said. “And maybe it’s replacing the fixture, maybe there’s some plumbing issues that we’re going to have to deal with. We don’t know, that’s why closing the buildings made the most sense — getting totally comprehensive tests and moving forward.”

Hall said the problem doesn’t seem to be coming from the main water source or line. Rather, it may be an issue with individual fixtures, he said, as results were inconsistent and some fixtures in older buildings lack the modern protective plastic inner lining that prevents water/metal contact and the potential lead uptake of water in contact with metal.

“If we find some some fixtures that are problematic, we will shut those down,” Hall said.

The three buildings will remain closed until NMU receives the expedited independent laboratory results.

“Our hope is that we get results back on Saturday and we can develop an action plan from there,” Hall said.

Even if comprehensive testing confirms that elevated lead levels are coming from some water sources, Hall said the buildings should be open on Monday, as the EPA said the university is not required to shut down the buildings and can reopen the buildings with advisement not to consume the water.

Hall said there is no official estimate for the cost of the water testing at this time.

This closure follows the two-day cautionary closure of the Jacobetti Complex during February in response to elevated lead readings.

Later tests of the water in Jacobetti confirmed that the lead levels in the water is safe, falling below the EPA action level of 15 parts per billion, according to a press release from NMU.

“We went through this with the Jacobetti and so it was pretty evident what we should do, and how we handled things last time, it worked out pretty well,” Hall said.

This testing comes after the university followed through on its pledge to test the water in over 50 campus buildings to establish baseline measures.

“We have over 50 buildings on campus, we’ve tested all the buildings and the rest of our buildings came back fine,” Hall said.

Hall said employees in the three impacted buildings should contact their supervisors about working arrangements for the remainder of the week, noting that the TV and public radio stations in the Learning Resources Center will continue to operate.

Updated information will be available at nmu.edu/watertest.

Cecilia Brown can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 248. Her email address is

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