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BC Removed a Lead Pipe From Beneath Greycliff Hall Earlier This Month. City Officials Say the University Was Informed About It Over a Decade Ago.

On March 6, Boston College removed a lead pipe servicing Greycliff Hall from beneath the sidewalk on Commonwealth Avenue.

The pipe was one of many lead pipes in and around the Brighton area, according to the Boston Water and Sewer Commission (BWSC), but it was the only one on BC’s campus. 

“BC Facilities regrets that due to an oversight, a six-foot underground section of lead pipe at 2051 Commonwealth Avenue was not removed as scheduled in the summer of 2019,” University Spokesman Jack Dunn wrote in a statement to The Heights.

But according to Boston city officials, BC was notified of the pipe nearly 15 years ago.

In a recent article by the Boston Globe, Irene McSweeney, chief of operations for the BWSC, said the commission reached out to BC about removing the pipe in 2009, 2016, 2017, 2021.

According to Dunn, these claims are unfounded.

“BC Facilities has found no evidence of receipt of BWSC notices and was informed by BWSC staff that they were not able to verify addresses for their reported correspondence with BC,” Dunn said in his statement.

BSWC, however, remains adamant that the University was alerted of the lead pipe on multiple occasions since 2009.

“In addition to a meeting between BWSC and BC officials in 2018 to discuss solutions, BWSC records show letters of notification about the property in question were sent periodically,” BWSC wrote in a statement to The Heights.

When Tia Guay, a Greycliff resident and MCAS ’26, was first notified about the lead pipe via email in February, she grew worried about her regular use of the kitchen and its water supply. 

“I was a little concerned about it because we use the kitchen a lot—my roommate and I both do,” Guay said.

The Perils of a Pipe 

According to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), lead exposure can cause cardiovascular disease, reproductive disease, kidney disease, and high blood pressure. Lead exposure can also accumulate over time, being stored in bones alongside calcium.

Dunn said BC hired a firm to conduct an independent water test at Greycliff Hall in February, which concluded that lead levels in the building’s water were below the EPA’s action level. 

“The test showed a lead level of 0.0008 milligrams per liter, which translates to 0.8 parts per billion (ppb)—well below the EPA’s action level of 15 ppb,” Dunn said in the statement.

BC also ran a test in 2016 that showed lead levels in the building’s water to be 3 ppb—also below the EPA standard. 

“These tests show that the water in 2051 Commonwealth Avenue is safe by the standards set by the EPA and the Commonwealth of Massachusetts,” Dunn said in the statement.

Despite this standard, the World Health Organization states that the ideal level of lead in drinking water should be zero, as even low levels of exposure can cause harmful side effects. 

The EPA also states that the level of lead at which no adverse health effects are likely to occur is zero.

But according to Philip Landrigan, director of the global public health and the common good program, the age demographics of residents living in Greycliff make the risk of health consequences due to lead exposure low. 

“I would characterize this risk as minimal at most,” Landrigan wrote in a statement to The Heights. “A key fact is that all of the building residents are young adult college students … This is very important, because infants and young children are the age groups at greatest risk of lead.”

Although the risk was low, Landrigan said he was relieved that BC removed the lead pipe. 

“I am reassured that BC has now removed the lead pipe at 2051 Commonwealth Avenue,” Landrigan said in his statement. “Even though the risk to health was extremely low, this was the right thing to do.” 

Greycliff Residents React

Matthew Sher, MCAS ’24 and Greycliff resident, was first notified of the lead pipe after finding a pink warning slip outside of the building, informing students of the pipe’s replacement. 

Surprised that BC still had a lead pipe, Sher said this note left him concerned. 

“We got an email about the replacement right before spring break,” Sher said in a statement to The Heights. “I definitely got concerned about using the water when I first got the email and got bottled water because I didn’t expect a dorm to still have lead pipes.”

Guay also questioned BC’s inaction over replacing the pipe sooner given the University’s funds. 

“I was confused why BC has a lot of money but they didn’t fix the pipes,” Guay said.

Despite their knowledge of the lead pipe, BC did not inform students of its presence until late February when they sent residents an email. 

“They just sent out an email warning us about it, but said it wasn’t anything to worry about,” Guay said. 

In addition to the warning, BC followed up with students, detailing a plan of action. 

“They just emailed with the plan and the timeline, when the water would be shut off and so forth,” resident Kathleen Beauvais, MCAS ’25, said. “Communications were pretty quick but just to the point.” 

Leanna Knight, MCAS ’25, lived in Greycliff Hall last year and only learned of the lead pipe recently, a fact which she said disturbed her.

“It definitely felt kind of disturbing to know that they were there,” Knight said. “Nobody ever told us about any of that.” 

Although BC’s communications said the lead levels were low and safe, Beauvais was still glad to have the pipe replaced.

“I’m definitely glad they fixed it,” Beauvais said. “I mean I know, like [BC] said, that the water levels are safe and that was no real issue, but just preventatively removing any pipes that could cause an issue is always a good thing.” 

David Abel, professor of the practice at Boston University’s journalism department and author of the recent Boston Globe article, said in a statement to The Heights that he could not find any other existing lead pipes at other universities. 

“We also looked at the map of known lead pipes that the Boston Water and Sewer Commission has on their website, a link of which you can find in the story, and we could not find any other existing lead pipes at other universities in the city, including BU,” Abel wrote. 

Knight said the lack of communication between BC and Greycliff residents left students unaware of the dangers of lead piping. 

“We were never really told anything about [the pipes], so it’s hard to know the dangers of them,” she said. 

March 27, 2024

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