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Posted on Jun 4, 2010

Is it Safe to Drink from Public Drinking Water Fountains?

Have you thought twice before using a public drinking water fountain? They are, after all, provided by your city so they have to be clean, right? Actually, they might not be. One of the dirtiest public water fountains may be your child’s school drinking fountain. Now, that is a frightening concept.

A 13-year-old Oregon student did a project in his school to check if the fountain or the toilet would be cleaner. He swabbed both public objects and then grew whatever was in them. He discovered there was more bacteria in the school fountain than in the toilet.

Some public schools use their own wells to supply your children with water. They don’t receive water from the local water supplier. The Associated Press recently reported that 10% of schools in the United States have their own wells. It is proven that school well water has the highest amount of water contamination. It is not protected by public water processing or by a private water filtration system. This only illustrates that whether the water fountain is at a school, in a park, or in a public building, that old warning your mom used to use makes sense. Don’t touch that because you don’t know where it’s been.

What can be found in these public drinking fountains? The most commonly found bacteria in school water fountains are coliform bacteria. This bacterium suggests fecal matter has contaminated the water source. Your students could be drinking a large variety of contaminants from any public water fountain. Did you know that lead is the second most common contaminant found in public school drinking fountains? Lead is known to affect development and IQ and it can cause permanent damage in young children.

You might know that you can request a water quality report provided by your water supplier. What you probably don’t know is that schools don’t have to produce a report about their quality of water. They aren’t required by law to do so like your water supplier is. Unless your child’s school receives their water from a public water supplier, you won’t get too far in requesting a report so you know what your child is drinking at school. Even if schools were required by the law to produce a detailed report about the quality of your child’s drinking water, the school doesn’t have the money to do so or to fix the problem.

It may have come as a shock that your child’s school toilet water could be cleaner than the drinking fountain. It is because the toilet water is continuously flushed. The toilet is also cleaned more than water fountains are cleaned.

The government has changed drinking water fountains in the past because of safety concerns. In fact, it used to be that the spout that produces the water used to shoot the water vertical. There was an outbreak of illnesses from the use of public drinking water fountains in the beginning of the 20th century. Research helped the government realize the vertical spouts were causing the illnesses.

Now it is illegal to have a vertical spout in a public drinking fountain. The flow from the vertical spout also has to be four inches from the spout to prevent people from touching the metal of the spout. This was done when the concern of lead materialized. A covering over the spout protects an individual in case the water flow isn’t four inches.

These are statistics about the safety of public water supplies that are worth considering. It is also wise to counsel your children to avoid using public water fountains at school or in any public building or park. It might seem like it is a good solution to send bottled water with your kids to school. Bottled water, however, also has been shown to contain significant levels of water contamination.

Instead, invest in some reusable bottles or totes that you can fill from your tap at home. Then invest in a home water filtration system such as those sold by Aquasana. In that way, you can send good, clean, and healthy water with your child wherever he or she goes. This solution is better than letting the kids drink from public water fountains and it is healthier and cheaper than buying bottled water for your children. In that way, it is a workable solution that any parent can accomplish.