University Contacts Regarding Drinking Water Issues:Environmental Health & Safety Facilities Management

EHS - Box 1914
164 Angell Street
Providence, RI 02912
Office: (401) 863-3353
Fax: (401) 863-7676


Brown University’s Providence, RI campus is supplied with water by the Providence Water Supply Board (PWSB).  The PWSB obtains its water from a series of surface water reservoirs located in the central part of Rhode Island.  These reservoirs cover over 4,500 acres and are protected by 17,000 acres of PWSB controlled land.  The water is then piped to Providence and surrounding communities through 870 miles of water mains.  For more information on the Providence Water Supply Board or the water they supply please visit their website at:

Lead in Drinking Water

Lead is rarely found in water supplies like the reservoirs that the PWSB maintains.  Typically elevated lead levels in drinking water are caused by older (pre-1986) local distribution or building plumbing system that were made with lead containing materials.  The EPA has identified elevated lead concentrations in drinking water as a concern, primarily for young children under the age of 6. 

Actions the EPA suggests you take to reduce lead concentrations in drinking water:

  • Flush Your Pipes Before Drinking - Anytime the water in a particular faucet has not been used for six hours or longer, "flush" your cold-water pipes by running the water until it becomes as cold as it will get.  (This could take as little as five to thirty seconds if there has been recent heavy water use such as showering or toilet flushing.  Otherwise, it could take a few minutes).  The more time water has been sitting in your home's pipes, the more lead it may contain.
  • Only Use Cold Water for Consumption - Use only water from the cold-water tap for drinking, cooking, and especially for making baby formula.  Hot water is likely to contain higher levels of lead.  

The two actions above are recommended and should help reduce lead levels because most of the lead in drinking water usually comes from the local distribution or building plumbing system, not from the local water supply.

To address this concern Brown University’s Office of Environmental Health & Safety (EHS) has performed representative water sampling in every University building to check lead levels in drinking water.  One key finding was that no residence hall was found to have lead levels that exceeded the EPA’s action level.  In the small percentage of buildings where any of the tests exceeded the EPA’s action level of 15 parts per billion (ppb) lead, the following steps were taken:

  • Building occupants were initially made aware of the results through an email distribution.
  • Bottled water dispensers were provided for the building occupants.  In some buildings, water filters are being provided as an alternative to the bottled water dispensers.
  • Faucets were posted with a sign to inform occupants and visitors of the potential for the lead in water to exceed the EPA action level.  In auxiliary housing, information is sent directly to tenants and water filters are provided by the auxiliary housing office.

The steps outlined above were taken out of an abundance of caution to ensure that water for drinking and cooking can reliably be maintained below the lead action level.  If you have questions or concerns, please email or call EHS at 863-3353.

Research Building Drinking Water

In most Brown University research facilities water intended to be used for drinking and cooking can be obtained on each floor at the hallway water fountains, kitchenettes, or from bathroom sinks.  Sinks in research labs, teaching labs, research support spaces, or stockrooms should not be used for drinking or cooking.  Eating and drinking in research laboratories or in areas where chemicals may be used or stored is strictly forbidden.