Water’s content near safe levels

By Dave Gomez

City and university officials are closer to reaching a long-term solution to high copper levels in NIU’s water.

“The city is taking a look, did some testing and has changed the mix of the water coming to NIU,” said Bob Albanese, director of NIU’s physical plant. “We’ve got the problem under control.”

Newly adjusted phosphate levels will reduce copper in NIU’s water substantially, Albanese said, and will phase out the less efficient temporary fix of continuously flushing water through the system.

Last summer, some university buildings were found to contain copper levels up to twice the amount allowed under the Environmental Protection Agency’s Safe Drinking Water Act.

Drinking water with high levels of copper can cause nausea, vomiting and diarrhea, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Web site. Long-term effects include kidney and liver damage.

Phosphates in the university’s water supply helps guard pipes against copper erosion, said Bryan Faivre, district production supervisor with the city of DeKalb. The compounds reduce the amount of copper leeched into the water by coating the pipes with a protective film.

The new blend will feature a higher ratio of orthophosphate, Faivre said, which is more effective at coating pipes. Faivre said he expected phosphate levels to start increasing over the next month.

Public works employees also have been monitoring water at the Engineering Building and Stevenson Towers for the past six weeks, Faivre said. Phosphate levels in each building have been raised or lowered according to copper levels.

Some buildings tested higher for copper because of their plumbing, Albanese said. Newer buildings use copper for their piping, while older ones often use pipes made from galvanized iron.

Usage also affects the copper levels in a building, Faivre said. The longer water sits stagnant in pipes, the more copper can build up.

The city will continue to evaluate the new water makeup to ensure its effectiveness, Albanese said. He praised the cooperation between the city and university in reaching a solution.

“It’s been kind of a good process to react to a situation that could be viewed as serious,” he said.