CONTACT: STEVE PARROTT
101 Jessup Hall
Iowa City IA 52242
(319) 335-0552; fax (319) 335-0558
Release: Jan. 3, 2002
Drinking water in Biology Building East accidentally contaminated
IOWA CITY, Iowa University of Iowa faculty and staff who work in
the Biology East Building are being warned not to drink the water there until
the building's water supply can be flushed. The warning comes after the water
supply was accidentally contaminated with up to 30 gallons of heating loop
fluid containing the antifreeze ethylene glycol on Monday, Dec 31.
The heating loop fluid is a mixture of half water and half ethylene glycol.
According to safety information on the product, "amounts ingested incidental
to handling are not likely to cause injury; however, ingestion of large amounts
could cause serious injury." As of Thursday, there were no reports of
faculty or staff who have been made ill by drinking the water.
University officials have notified the Iowa Department of Natural Resources
about the incident and have received DNR approval for the plan of action to
decontaminate the building's water supply. That plan includes the following
* The building's potable water system is being flushed to remove residual
contamination. Following the flushing, the water will be tested for ethylene
glycol to verify decontamination.
* Signs have been posted in the building saying "Biology Building East
Water Contaminated with Ethylene Glycol Do Not Drink the Water in this
Building until Further Notice."
* Exterior entrances to the building have been locked so that only university
staff can enter the building until the decontamination is complete.
The incident occurred after university plumbers were called to the building
early on the morning of Dec. 31 when the heating system went down because
of a leak. After fixing the leak, workers pumped the antifreeze back into
the system at about noon. Not long afterwards, a building maintenance worker
noticed that water in a toilet had a pinkish tinge similar to the color of
the antifreeze. Workers notified their managers on Wednesday, Jan. 2, following
the New Year's holiday. Officials from the UI Health Protection Officer and
the DNR were notified that same day. Likewise, the source of the contamination
was confirmed and flushing began on Wednesday.
"It appears that the antifreeze was accidentally introduced into the
potable water system because of a difference in pressure between the heating
loop and the potable water system," said John De Brie, director of Operations
and Maintenance for UI Facilities Services Group. "It's possible that
we had a malfunctioning pressure gauge, but in the future we will make it
standard practice to put a backflow preventor into the system. That should
ensure that we don't allow this to happen again."