In an effort to be environmentally friendly and as a way of staying hydrated throughout the day, I have been using the water fountains around campus to fill up my reusable water bottle. The water is usually cold and tastes fine. However, with the amount of people I hear coughing and sneezing in my classes, I worry about getting sick due to possible bacteria. Are drinking fountains safe to drink out of? Or should I look into buying a Brita filter instead of risking getting sick?
Thirteen year old Kyleray Katherman questioned the same thing after his school banned plastic water bottles and left students to only drink out of drinking fountains. In a study that gained national attention, Katherman tested and compared how clean the water fountain was in comparison to his schools toilets. He used cotton swabs and petri dishes to test the bacteria content at both campus water fountains and toilets and found that the water fountains had way more bacteria than the toilets.
The National Sanitation Foundation, which tests elementary schools for bacterial content, also found that more bacteria was in drinking fountains, not bathrooms. In their study, 2.7 million bacterial cells were found per square inch.
Many schools receive their drinking water from nearby water systems, which work to reduce the corrosiveness of the water. This water is tested on a regular basis to meet federal and state standards. However, the water pipes and plumbing at the school still can affect and contaminate the water with harmful bacteria.
There are many damaging pathogens that live in water fountains, which cause people to get sick. E-coli, legionella, and coliform are three types of bacteria found in water fountains. Drinking water also contains viruses, chemicals, and metals. These types of bacteria can cause stomach problems and pneumonia-like symptoms such as headaches, vomiting, and diarrhea.
Surprisingly, even a dog’s bowl is safer to drink out of than a water fountain. In a study done by the Toronto Star comparing bacteria count, the water fountain had 4,529 bacteria and the dog bowl only had 172 bacteria.
I will definitely not be drinking out of a water fountain ever again. However, if you find yourself needing to refill your water bottle or are just simply dehydrated, make sure to let the water run for a couple of seconds before you drink it. Water that sits for a long time in a water fountain may have traces of lead or other metals.