Water sometimes murky, but safe

Monday mornings at MCCC bring on another week and murky water.

Some students and staff are greeted with an unpleasant sight when they turn on the faucet or use the toilet: Spigots spurt rusty-colored H20 and toilet bowls are tinged with yellow.

"I'm not scared of the water; it just looks gross," said Aimee Westover, who works in Eastern Michigan University's office in the L building.

Westover says the college's water ranges from an orange to yellow appearance on Monday mornings before the pipes get flushed out by use.

"I normally bring water from home," she said.

The problem is even worse after a long break.

"If we go away for a holiday, you have to run the water for a good 15 minutes," said Janice Hylinski, who works in the library and also brings her own water to work.

Barry LaRoy, director of Water & Wastewater Utilities for the City of Monroe, said the water is safe to drink. The cloudy appearance is very common in older buildings, he said.

When water moves through the old pipes, rust particles and other minerals can ride along in the stream, LaRoy said.

"If you have older pipes, sediment can level out," he said.

LaRoy said regular testing is conducted on MCCC's water.

"We do routine samples each week," he said.

At the request of The Agora, the Wastewater Utilities Department tested MCCC's water in all eight college buildings.

"All the samples came back negative," LaRoy said. "The ph looked within normal characteristics."

LaRoy said all water samples except the Health building were taken at the janitor closet. The Health building water was tested in a meter room sink.

The department's weekly regimen includes checking for alkaline and acidity range (ph level) chlorine levels, turbidity (suspended particles), and coliform (bacteria), LaRoy said.

The results averaged a 7 ph level in all buildings, which is within the normal range, according to the Environmental Protection Agency. Also, no coliform has been detected in the last six months.

Despite the college's clean bill on the water tests, the murky water has been a longstanding issue for staff in the C and L buildings.

Tom Scheer, who works in the C building basement as an Information Systems technician, raised awareness of the problem years ago. His boss brought two jugs of cloudy water into a meeting of MCCC administrators.

"There were no plans to address any of it at the time," Scheer said.

"Would you drink water that's brown?" Network Administrator John Wyrabrakiewicz said from his work cubicle.

As a result of the meeting, Scheer said his department received a Culligan water machine – a unit that feeds filtered water from a spout. However, it saw its days come to an end when it required too much maintenance. He and most of his co-workers now bring water from home.

The water comes in various colors, flavors and even smells, according to some students and staff.

"It tastes like rust," said Penny Dorcey-Naber, administrative assistant to the dean of Humanities and Social Sciences.

Wybrakiewicz said he would drink water from any college building, but that water from fountains appears to have an 'oily' taste.

"It tastes horrible," said Spenser Loiscelle, an MCCC student.

Marino Gaggini, a second-year student, said the water smells like chlorine.

"At least it's clean. It's better than smelling like a sewer," he said.

Jack Burns, director of Campus Planning and Facilities, said most of the piping on campus is original, made from galvanized plumbing.

The oldest pipe systems are in A, C and L buildings, East and West Technology, and the powerhouse.

Most of the college's piping is original and made from galvanized plumbing, Burns said. Leaks have been a problem in the past and a PVC spray has been used to coat the inside of some pipes.

"This procedure was done to resolve leaky pipes and it has fixed that issue," he said in an email.

Burns said the newer Laz-Z-Boy Center has copper piping, a better material.

The college is aware of the problems and takes steps each week to minimize the issue.

Maintenance Foreman Jeff VanSlambrouck said members of his staff turn the faucets on in the restroom as well as the slop sinks in the custodial closets, and runs them while they're working. These procedures are done on a weekly basis.

"It gets the water flowing," he said.

Burns said flushing the pipes seems to work; the Maintenance Department has received no work orders related to water quality.

"We do this not only because it is a good maintenance practice, but also because it ensures that the drinking water supplied to campus meets acceptable quality standards," he said in an email.

VanSlambrouck said a filter is located above the hallway ceiling that supplies the drinking fountains in the L building.

"That's changed on a regular basis," he said.

VanSlambrouck explained why the murky water comes and goes – as illustrated in the photo.

He said each sink has its own supply line and water will sit in the supply line until it is used.

"If you would have taken that sample again from that same sink five minutes later, I guarantee you it wouldn't have looked like it did in that picture," he said.

In addition to the flushing practices, Burns said he is looking into replacing and improving the drinking fountains in some buildings.

"We have to assess everything," he said. "Our goal is to make sure everything is running properly."

Despite the water's bad rap, there are those who are okay with its questionable appearance.

"I don't think it's dangerous," Biology professor Philip Wahr said.

Dorcey-Naber said the MCCC water isn't her first choice.

"It's a matter of preference. We get used to the way our water tastes at home," she said.

Justin VanVolkenburg, an MCCC student and Iraqi War veteran, noted that it's not dirt but bacteria and other pathogens that are dangerous in water.

"A little dirt won't kill you," he said.