High lead levels found in water inside city buildings

KHOU 11 investigative reporter Scott Noll reports on high lead levels found in the water inside Houston City Hall and Annex.

HOUSTON – Testing by KHOU 11 Investigates has uncovered high levels of lead in the drinking water of two City of Houston buildings downtown.

In response Thursday, city administrators shut down drinking fountains and water dispensers in City Hall and the City Hall Annex building where a combined 630 people work.

For months, KHOU 11 Investigates has been exposing the issue of high lead levels in drinking water across the Houston area.

As part of that reporting, water samples were collected from three drinking fountains in City Hall and the Annex building in recent weeks.

Two of those samples tested above federal limits for lead in drinking water. The third sample was right at the federal limit for lead of 15 parts per billion.

“Lead is a very toxic, heavy metal, and even at trace concentrations could cause problems” explained Dr. Qilin Li, an associate professor at Rice University’s Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering.  

In adults, lead exposure can lead to an increase in blood pressure, a drop in kidney function and reproductive problems.

In pregnant women, lead can cause premature birth or even lead to a miscarriage.

“Should people be drinking out of these fountains right now with these kinds of levels?” KHOU 11 Investigates asked Li.

“If these kinds of levels are found very frequently, no,” she answered.

Both samples far exceeded the 15 parts per billion limit.

Water taken from a second floor fountain at the City Hall Annex registered 116 parts per billion for lead.

Across the street at City Hall, a basement water fountain had a lead level of 32 parts per billion.

When the fountains were re-tested, the lead levels remained high, so KHOU 11 Investigates contacted the city to alert administrators to our findings.

Within hours, the city shut-off water to the fountains.

“We did testing a couple years ago,” said Janice Evans, spokesperson for Mayor Sylvester Turner. “At that time, the levels were acceptable, so the fact that had changed, we found out from you,” Evans said late Thursday.

Budget document show the water fountains in both buildings “have outlived their useful life,” and are scheduled for replacement.

But so far, that work hasn’t happened.

For now, the fountains will stay dry until the city can do its own tests and determine how the high levels of lead ended up in the water.

“Is it the pipes? Is it the drinking fountains? Is it water coming into the building? It could be one of any three of the options,” said Evans.“There’s a lot of deferred maintenance in this building. We’re aware of that, addressing it is an on-going issue.”

In addition to City Hall and the City Hall Annex, Evans says the city plans to test water at other downtown buildings.

The mayor has also ordered water testing be done annually. 


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