Lead Water Sampling Completed at UCSF Hospitals

January 31, 2018
Written by Travis Clark

UC San Francisco continues to sample cold drinking water for lead across its campus and medical center locations in a voluntary testing program that began in the summer of 2016.

Along with UCSF childcare facilities and campus housing, medical center locations were prioritized for evaluation, due to the presence of the most vulnerable populations.

The effort to sample every water ingestion point in all three UCSF Medical Centers presented its own unique challenges. Minimizing business interruption, sensitivity to patient needs, and ensuring clarity of communication are all significant considerations in health care facilities that operate around the clock. Patient floors, cafeterias and food services, public lobbies and waiting rooms, are all critical areas with nearly constant occupancy.

The first step included definition and inventory of “water ingestion points” throughout UCSF Medical Center. The project team defined water ingestion points as:

  • Water fountains
  • Ice machines/water dispensers
  • Water dispensers
  • Insta-Hots
  • Bottle fillers

During the inventory process, the project team identified that most of the UCSF patient population receives drinking water via ice machine/water dispenser units located in every hospital wing. In recent years, UCSF Medical Center standardized these units, so nearly every unit on every patient floor is identical, regardless of location. Fortunately, these units each come with a two-stage filter system and in April 2017, the medical center modified filter specifications to ensure that the filter is also rated for lead reduction.

Public water fountains have also been retrofitted with filter systems, where necessary, but the “simple” filtration strategy is often times not as easy as initially thought. Architectural design, aesthetic considerations, and Americans with Disabilities Act or ADA access requirements must be accommodated before a filtering solution can be deployed at the ingestions points.

After 18 months, 16 buildings and more than 1,000 samples collected, the medical center water testing has concluded. As expected, the older buildings at Mount Zion and Parnassus campuses did have a small number of locations that sampled above the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) Action Level of 20 parts per billion (ppb). All samples at the new hospitals at Mission Bay, however, registered below the detection limit ( less than 1ppb) in 30 pilot locations sampled. As a result, further sampling the project’s Scientific Advisory Group did not recommend further testing at the Mission Bay facilities.

While there are still a small handful of locations where modifications are underway by Medical Center Facilities, UCSF takes pride in knowing that the water supplied to our patients, visitors, faculty, staff and students is safe to drink.

Information regarding specific locations and results can be found at http://ehs.ucsf.edu/water-quality/project-status-and-results. Questions regarding the project may be routed to project management at WaterTesting@ucsf.edu.