- Associated Press - Saturday, April 9, 2016

CONCORD, N.H. (AP) - The University of New Hampshire water system is among more than two dozen across the state where water samples have exceeded the federal government’s lead limit in the last three years, according to an Associated Press review of federal data.

While no amount of lead exposure is considered safe, an Environmental Protection Agency rule that took effect in 1991 calls for drinking water systems to keep levels below 15 parts per billion. The AP’s analysis of EPA data found that nearly 1,400 of the 75,000 systems that are subject to that rule have exceeded the standard at least once since Jan. 1, 2013.

The list includes 28 water systems in New Hampshire, most of them small, privately-owned systems serving fewer than 200 people. The largest by far is the University of New Hampshire system, which serves some 16,000 people depending on the time of year and includes roughly 1,200 water meters in the town of Durham and about 300 meters for buildings on campus.

According to the EPA data, a dozen samples in the history of the UNH system have been over 15 parts per billion, most recently in January 2014. Water tested during the latest six-month sampling period, which ended in June, came back with a result of 5 parts per billion, well under the limit.

Matt O’Keefe, the university’s director of energy and utilities, said most of the above-limit samples were taken in the early 2000s. Since then, the university has worked with state environmental officials to implement a treatment program, and has had only one occurrence of lead concentrations greater than 15 parts per billion since it began using a mixture of chemicals to reduce the impact of lead and copper entering into the distribution system in 2008, he said.

The longer water stands in a building’s plumbing system, the more lead it may contain, so many of the trouble spots were areas where water was seldom used, he said. For example, he said, that includes sections of a now-closed conference center on campus. Samples are collected from about 50 locations on campus and another 50 throughout the town of Durham, he said.

“We would find buildings on campus where there might be a water fixture that gets used once every six months,” he said. “It’s not places like residence halls where you have people taking a lot of showers and there’s a lot of water flowing.”

The problem of lead-tainted drinking water has been in the spotlight since the entire water system serving the city of Flint, Michigan, was declared unsafe. O’Keefe said he knows the problems there have raised concerns among local residents and students, but said the university goes above and beyond state and federal requirements to protect water quality.

Elsewhere, about half of the New Hampshire water systems with samples above the limit in recent years are located in the southeastern part of the state, though others are scattered as far north as Haverhill and as far west as Alstead. Together, the 28 systems serve just over 24,000 people, and they include three daycare centers and five primary schools.

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