Starting last May, adjunct professor of human relations at the School of Professional Studies (SPS) Susan Fountain heard that some of her colleagues had been feeling sick.
Unbeknownst to her, a staff member in her building at 119 West 31st Street had reported to the administration that there was discolored water coming from the water dispensers. The administration conducted some tests on the water system and told some administrative workers not to drink the water in the building. But, the administration failed to tell faculty members and students.
When Graduate Center PSC chapter chair Luke Elliott-Negri found out about the failure to notify instructors and students, he was “furious,” Fountain recalled. After he “raised holy hell” with the administration, the landlord put up signs telling everyone to drink only bottled water.
Over the summer, the PSC chapter demanded to know what the results of the tests were. “I wanted to know what I was drinking in May,” said Fountain, who had feared that the potential problems with the water had contributed to other members’ health issues. “There were other people in the building who had symptoms,” she added.
The chapter pushed for a labor-management meeting, which happened on December 16, after two tests on the water had taken place. “I said, ‘enough is enough,’” Fountain recalled. “We put around a petition and three of us got 62 people to sign it, saying, ‘We urge you to obtain and complete water tests done in May.’”
Days later, the chapter received the results, which showed that there were extremely high levels of copper in two rooms in the building, 30 times the action level of the Environmental Protection Agency. “That’s a lot of copper,” Fountain said.
BRINGING LEVELS DOWN
Since the December meeting, the administration produced tests from August showing the copper amount had gone down to acceptable EPA levels.
The chapter then continued to press for more testing. And after a meeting on January 24 with the administration, members insisted on one more test before the landlord removed bottled water from the building. But, the chapter was told the landlord wouldn’t do this for cost reasons and that the metal levels were below EPA action levels.
The chapter is continuing the fight around this issue, and as Fountain noted, it has greatly helped to organize the chapter.
“It’s really something people have coalesced around,” she said. “This has really raised the PSC’s profile at SPS.”