Source of water problem may never be known

Signs are posted on all available water fountains and sinks warning people of unsafe water.

Photo by Dave DeLuca/The Record

Signs are posted on all available water fountains and sinks warning people of unsafe water.

By now, it’s no secret that something isn’t quite right with the water in the Science Building at SUNY Buffalo State.

The cause of the problem, however, continues to baffle campus administration and the construction and maintenance staff charged with overseeing the issue.

These are the facts so far:

  • High levels of bacteria have been present in the water since March 2013.
  • When the problem was discovered, the college shut off drinking fountains and installed water coolers.
  • Signs are posted at all drinking fountains and sinks warning students and staff not to drink any of the water.
  • Water in the building now has chlorine added thanks to a daily “system flushing,” which brings bacteria levels back to what the Environmental Protection Agency considers safe.

Steve Shaffer, manager for design and construction at Buffalo State, said that the original source of the bacteria remains unknown and may never be able to be determined with certainty.

According to the EPA’s website, trace amounts of disinfectants and some organic and inorganic chemicals are allowed in drinking water.

However, microorganisms that can cause adverse health effects are never permitted in any amount.

John Martin, press officer for the EPA, said that the water supply is delegated to the New York State Department of Health, which has further delegated it to the Erie County Department of Health. The EPA said it would only get involved if there were health violations that either lead agency refused to address.

The Erie County Department of Health said that Dolores Funke, director of environmental health, is asking someone from her staff look into the situation to determine if intervention is needed.

Although the problem has now surpassed one year, Shaffer said the college remains diligent in working toward a solution.

“We will work with the State University Construction Fund, their consultants, and campus scientists with a focus on removing bacteria and restoring the water system to assure safe conditions,” Shaffer said.

Buffalo State staff believe the Construction Fund is obligated to fix the problem. This has created a virtual standoff between the two parties while students and faculty are caught in the middle.

Some in the Buffalo State community think that SU Construction has not been as responsive as they should have been in dealing with the problem. The lack of urgency has left some professors affected by this on a daily basis to call on interim President Howard Cohen to look outside of SUNY for a solution by bringing in a third-party firm to find a permanent solution to the problem.

David Doyle, director of communications for The State University of New York said that the safety of everyone who uses the building is their primary concern.

“Since the water quality issue arose, the water has been tested more than two thousand times to monitor chlorine and bacteria levels to assure EPA thresholds are not exceeded,” Doyle said

Shaffer said the college is hesitant to absolve SU Construction altogether because once they do, they will have very little recourse to back the contractors who installed the water system.

State University Construction declined to comment on their position in this issue.

A Freedom of Information Request was also filed for any records SUNY has regarding the issue. The Record will follow up with any findings once they are received.


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