Students report illnesses from Ruef drinking water after sewage pipe bursts: college says any illnesses are ‘unrelated’

A sewage pipe burst last weekend in Ruef Hall, resulting in water shut-offs and construction to the north half of the building. (Photo by AJ Traub ’20)

A burst sewer pipe in Ruef Hall last weekend resulted in the water being shut-off to the north side of the building. Major construction ensued on the building’s pipes for several days. Some students reported getting sick from drinking the water in Ruef, though the college reported that there was no contamination of drinking water.

Luc Dobin ’22 was in the shower when they turned the water off. He explained that he and other residents were worried about the drinking water being contaminated.

“Apparently also for a period of time the water fountains were contaminated. This went without being announced for several hours,” Dobin said. “Me and numerous other Ruef residents from different floors had… filled up our water bottles with [the water] before leaving and had been drinking it throughout the day.”

All residents of Ruef Hall were notified of the “the sewer problem in Ruef Hall,”on Monday afternoon in an email from Assistant Director of Residence Life Timothy Ulrich. The emailed informed residents that the pipe had burst and the the water in the north side of the building was to be shut off for repairs and was to remain off overnight.

The email, however, did not mention if the water had been contaminated, only that “students may notice some slight discoloration in the water” in the south building as it had been turned off previously.

Dobin added that the problem was not only an inconvenience, but also harmful to students.

“One girl even told me that several of her friends had puked from drinking the water earlier,” Dobin said.

Roger Demareski, Vice President of Finance and Administration, said that he does not believe there was any contamination. He explained that the broken pipe was an outgoing one, and as such there was no chance of sewage mixing with water coming into the building.

“Any illnesses are unrelated [to the sewer main break],” Demareski said. “Any students with concerns should reach out to Health Services and Environmental Health and Safety [of the college].” 

Many students were also upset over the college’s delayed response, particularly in notifying students about the potentially contaminated drinking water and the sewer pipe burst.

Bruce Ferretti, Executive Director of Facilities, explained that the reason students were not told of the severity of the water problem was because the Lafayette facilities staff did not know the extent of the damage until Monday, treating the issue as a simple pipe blockage for the first couple days rather than a more significant pipe burst.

“The sewer first backed up on Saturday, December first,” Ferretti said. “Facilities dispatched a plumber who removed the blockage on Saturday and flow was temporarily restored.”

Ferretti said that the next day the same problem reoccurred, and was treated the same way. It wasn’t until Monday that facilities realized the problem went beyond a blockage after inserting a video camera into the sewer line and discovering the break.

“I think they should have told us over the weekend about the problems, and especially not to drink the water, because it could have prevented illnesses,” Jules Bernstein ‘22 said. “We were first contacted on Monday morning, so no one knew how bad the issue was over the weekend.”

Bernstein also reported getting sick from the water in Ruef.

“I was not feeling well from drinking the water,” she said. “Luckily, I did not throw up like other people, but I still was in pain.”

The bathroom on Bernstein and Dobin’s side of the building was closed Monday morning, as there was no water in her side of the building. As a result, all the residents from the north building have been relegated to the bathrooms in the south building.

According to an email sent to Ruef residents by Ulrich on Tuesday evening, “the water continues to be off in Ruef North to enable the repair. In order to fully repair the sewer line break, a part of the interior floor near the pool table will need to be excavated and removed tomorrow.”

Ulrich added that the necessary repairs should be made in time for water to be restored to the north building by Wednesday night.

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