Is Something Wrong With the Water in Wesley Hall?

A sign standing next to a natural spring along the Kalamazoo River in Victory Park has the “un” of unsafe scratched out. The water in Albion College's residential buildings is frequently avoided by students who are concerned it is unsafe (Photo by Bonnie Lord).

As first-year students learn their way around Albion’s campus, they soon discover that the water in Wesley Hall is… weird.

“The drinking water in Wesley last year was not good,” said Emily Brooks, Wyandotte sophomore. “I’d never drink water there. If I wanted to drink water I came to Baldwin and would get water in a water bottle because I just couldn’t do it.”

Brooks, like many other students, resorted to buying several cases of water bottles and only drinking from other sources on campus.  

The hesitancy to drink the water in Wesley Hall inspires curiosity: What is wrong with the tap water in Wesley Hall?

Several other buildings on campus receive similar water complaints. Considering all of Albion College gets its water from the same place, the question is best addressed at the source.

Albion College Spokesperson, Cathy Cole, said via email that all city residents and businesses, including Albion College, get their water from the same source –– the City of Albion’s two main underground wells and three backup wells, “all of which are more than 250 feet deep.”

The City used to source from a third well in the Clark Street Well Field, but it was closed in 1991 after trace amounts of trichloroethylene, a carcinogen according to the EPA, were discovered.  

Albion’s water is monitored closely, partially because of Albion College’s chemistry department; CHEM 206 students test the water frequently in addition to the monitoring being done by the city and Albion College.

The City of Albion releases annual water quality reports, the most recent being from 2021. Though the city does not cite any samples exceeding the EPA’s standards, there were many serious contaminants present at lower levels. 

Among them, total trihalomethanes, potential carcinogens, were detected at 19.4 parts per billion. Though this is well below the EPA’s limit of 80 ppb, the Environmental Working Group, a nonprofit community of scientists and advocates, has set the limit at 0.15 ppb or less, a threshold Albion blows out of the water. 

The city says this contamination is a “byproduct of chlorination.”

Another shocking set of contaminants are perfluoroalkyl substances, or PFAS, dangerous “forever chemicals,” as one NPR article calls them. The article says that PFAS are used in a wide array of household and industrial substances that stay in the environment for years without breaking down. 

According to the Environmental Working Group’s website: “Very low exposure to some PFAS chemicals has been linked to cancer, thyroid disease, weakened childhood immunity and many other health problems.”

The 2021 report does not mention PFAS, though it does mention PFOS, a PFAS compound, which was “not detectable at the testing limit.”

The Environmental Working Group, though, has found PFAS in Albion’s water. The City of Albion appears with a distinct blue dot on its interactable PFAS map of the US, indicating PFAS contamination in our drinking water. On their map, total PFAS were at a maximum of 20 parts per trillion in 2018. The national average is 2.71 ppt. 

With all of this in mind, I used a free Kinetico water quality test from Home Depot to investigate the quality of Wesley’s water. I sent a sample from one of the bathroom sinks the day before winter break began. Kinetico returned the analysis on Jan. 4, and the results proved that Wesley’s water is not typical. 

Kinetico tests for two general qualities in the water: Overall hardness and drinking water quality. In terms of overall hardness, the water tested soft, a sign that the highly maintained college water softeners are doing their job. 

However, the drinking quality scale was a different story. The Kinetico representative explained that they tested the water for total dissolved solids, essentially measuring the total amount of inorganic and organic substances in a liquid in parts per million. For context, zero is ideal and 50 is high, but still drinkable. 

Wesley’s water came in at 303. 

This isn’t cause for panic, though. Kinetico’s website identifies numbers from 1,000 and up as not fit for consumption. 

This doesn’t make our number any lower, and it is safe to assume that a filter is best used between Wesley’s tap water and your glass. 

 

About Bonnie Lord 22 Articles
Bonnie Lord is a sophomore from Alma, Michigan and is an environmental science major at Albion College. She investigates questions of infrastructure, water quality and the changing relationship the community of Albion navigates with the environment. She enjoys bird watching, reading, and dismantling the patriarchy. Contact Bonnie via email at BFL10@albion.edu

2 Comments

  1. Interesting article! I hope there is continued monitoring of water from different sources around campus.

  2. I prefer to drink purified bottled drinking water. I may be dreaming but I would like to believe that someone that is in the business of putting water in a bottle and selling it as “purified” is actually doing their job and delivering a quality product. I think you may have diagnosed your own problem. Testing water is like selling real estate in regard to location. The city may test the water before the well and after treatment. You tested it where it really counts, after going through the entire infrastructure at the very tap where you consume it. No doubt in my mind that you should filter your water. Now if you will indulge me in reading my story on why I feel safer drinking bottled water. Back in the 1980’s I lived in Florence Alabama. Florence is located downstream from the Brown’s Ferry nuclear plant on the Tennessee River. The drinking water in Florence was taken from the river, “god awful” and heavily treated. That was bad enough but then to read an obscure little news article in the back of the local newspaper that “the Brown’s Ferry nuclear plant had a small release of radioactively contaminated water into the Tennessee river and that officials have determined that the amounts should not be a concern” was the deciding factor on why I drink bottled water now. I have lived in Albion area for many years now, there are at least three “brownfields” in the area that had to be cleaned up via the government “superfund” The water well at my house was shut down due to chemical contaminants. Yes, I am sticking to bottled water please, thank you for reading.

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