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Harvard to Announce Water Test Results

Administrators Hope to Clear Up Confusion Surrounding Water Problem

By Julian E. Barnes

Results of water tests conducted last week for potentially cancer causing chemicals will be released today, according to Harvard officials.

Harvard's Environmental Health and Safety Office collected water samples last week and sent them to New England Chromochem, an Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) certified lab, to be tested, said Peter M. Bochnak, a Harvard senior safety specialist.

University administrators said they hoped the tests would clear up confusion surrounding Harvard's water testing.

"I am very dissappointed about the misinformation going on," said Thomas E. Vautin, administrative director of operations.

Based on incorrect information, Dean of the College L. Fred Jewett '57 told house masters last month that Harvard had already tested campus water for high levels of trihalomethanes (THMs), chemicals found to cause cancer in some laboratory animals, and found it safe.

THMs--high levels of which are a fairly common problem in the U.S.--form when chlorine added to water to kill dangerous bacteria reacts with organic material, such as leaves and grass. Some experts say it is more dangerous to drink bacteria-laden water, than water that contains THMs.

In January, the Cambridge Water Department sent letters to customers telling them that levels of THMs in water exceeded EPA limits from July 1988 through December 1989. Because Jewett and the house masters believed that the water had been tested and found drinkable by the University, they did not tell students about the Cambridge letter.

In the letter, the water department told customers that the levels of THMs in the water are currently acceptable. Harvard is testing the water to double check the city's results.

Jewett has said he gave the house masters information based on a conversation he had with Michael N. Lichten, Director of the Office of Project Management. Yesterday, Lichten said there was a misunderstanding. He said he had told Jewett only that initial testing procedures had begun, not that the tests were complete.

"Part of the confusion is that testing is a complex process," said Lichten. "I told Dean Jewett that the Environmental Health and Safetey Office was testing the water. It wasn't done, but was in the process of being completed."

Because the water department told customers about the high levels of THMs later than the date specified in state regulations, a fine of $10,000 was levied on the city.

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