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The Most Common Contaminants Found at Public Water Fountains


Public Water ContaminantsAs many of us have sent our kids back to school for another school year it’s important to ensure they have access to good, clean water at all times. If you, like many other homeowners, have installed a water filtration system in your home to combat the toxins and chemicals that may be lurking in your water you may assume your children are safe.

However, for seven hours a day your children’s primary source of water isn’t the fresh filtered water at home, but the suspect water emitting from the public water fountains at their school. The water quality at public water fountains isn’t any worse than the tap water in your home, but children are known to excessively touch communal water fountains or even envelop the entire water spout with their mouth.

In fact, there is a big national push to rebuild public trust in water fountains after the general public became wary of these very issues. As this white paper from the Pacific Institute demonstrates, the risk of disease from the water in public drinking fountains is minimal.

The risk comes from two primary factors: contaminants that are left behind due to improper cleaning or maintenance, and contaminants that find their way into the water due to aging water infrastructure like lead pipes.

Aging pipes and lead solders contribute to the leaching of lead and other undesirable compounds. Of course, it’s important to note that for most buildings, the water in the sinks would contain the same level of contaminants as the drinking fountains, so in a situation like the one in Flint, Michigan, an alternative solution would need to be found.

The most probable contaminants that your children could come into contact with at a public drinking fountain are not common water concerns like nitrates or chlorine, but rather viruses and bacteria spread from other children. A study conducted in day-care centers across the country found that water fountains are common carriers of rotavirus, which is known to cause diarrhea.

A separate study found that water fountain handles are among the most contaminated surfaces in public schools, with the handle serving as a host for influenza A and norovirus. Infectious diseases are the main risk factor when dealing with public school drinking fountains.

However, that does not mean that the water emitting from public water fountains is guaranteed to be safe. National Graphic revealed that more than 2,000 public schools around the country have water that violates federal standards of cleanliness. One of out five schools that use well water as their source were found to contain dangerous levels of contaminants.

The most common contaminants detected in these schools were coliform bacteria, arsenic, lead, nitrates, and copper. Even in small doses these pathogens and chemicals can cause serious health problems, especially for children.

What is a concerned parent to do? While it’s likely that the water in your child’s public school is safe to drink, there’s no way to know for sure. Luckily, there’s a practical solution that won’t harm the environment.

Don’t encourage your children to purchase bottled water: instead, send them to school with a reusable water bottle full of crisper, cleaner filtered water from home. That way, you can be confident none of these worrisome contaminants will affect your children!

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