Elevated iron levels cause discoloration in Nickerson water

Written by Muleskinner Staff

Managing Editor

(WARRENSBURG, Mo., digitalBURG) — The hot water in Nickerson Hall is discolored in some of the rooms, but housing officials say it’s still safe to use.

Michaela Smith, a student living in the Nickerson apartments, said the hot water comes out brown at the beginning of the day when the faucets are first used. She said it’s been an issue since August.

“I had lived in Nickerson before for two years and we never had a problem with it,” Smith said. “So it was kind of a surprise when we turned on our water and it was brown.”

Smith said she made two maintenance requests last semester, but she never heard back. Smith said she and a neighbor submitted requests earlier this semester and facilities later followed up on them. However, the hot water stayed discolored. Smith said the issue wasn’t fully addressed until she spoke with President Chuck Ambrose Wednesday, Feb. 22, after the student budget forum and showed him a water sample.

John Slobaszewski, assistant director of university housing – Midwest region, sent an email to all residents of Nickerson Hall the next morning. The email asked students having issues with discolored water to report it to the front desk.

Slobaszewski said the email was sent to gauge how widespread the issue was.

Patrick Bradley, director of university housing, said they received reports from about 12 students scattered throughout the building since the email was sent out. He said once housing staff realized the water discoloration was spread across the building, they knew it was a bigger issue.

“So they literally tore the boilers apart the other day to try to find out if they could see what was going on,” he said. “There definitely was some kind of chemical reaction that was happening in that boiler that was causing some rust. I know when you combine metals in plumbing systems that sometimes that will happen.”

Slobaszewski said oxidation in the hot water tank caused the rusty look and discoloration of the water. He said Missouri American Water and Culligan, the university’s water softener contractor, both tested the water and said it is safe to use.

“It just has an elevated iron level,” Slobaszewski said. “But it’s OK to cook, it’s OK to drink, it’s OK to bathe.”

Smith said, despite being tested, she won’t chance drinking the water.

“The water that I have now, I don’t drink,” she said. “I buy bottled water to cook with and to just drink, because there’s no way. Even when it runs clear I’m still not going to drink it.”

Smith said in most of the affected rooms the water usually turns clear after students let it run for a while.

“But my sink, in my bathroom and my kitchen, it will go from clear to yellow on and off,” she said. “It’s kind of a bet on which I’ll get that day.”

In an email sent to Nickerson residents Friday, Feb. 24, Slobaszewski said repairs to the water system won’t take place until spring break. He said the wait is due to the time it takes to order a part needed for the building’s boiler.

Smith said she hopes the issue will get resolved, but she feels like the only reason repairs are moving forward is because Ambrose made some calls.

“If he wasn’t involved, I honestly think they would have just told me to continue dealing with it,” she said. “Hopefully things get changed. We’ll see.”

Video contribution by Lauren Koske, multimedia editor.