Are drinking fountains safe to drink out of?


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.

3 thoughts on “Are drinking fountains safe to drink out of?

  1. Shannon Bridget Obrien

    Wow this post is scary! I have always been tentative about drinking out of water fountains and how I have reason to be. I read this article article about why you should never drink from a garden hose and it explained that the hoses have toxic chemicals in them which correlates to this post a little. I think it’s safe to say I’ll be drinking bottled water for a while.

  2. Isaac Benjamin Will

    This post was as startling as it was good and well-written. After reading it, though, well…I’m disappointed. I’m sad. And, to be honest, I’m a little bit scared. After all of the studies and the theories and the arguments, I was hoping the ultimate conclusion would be “Yes. Water fountains, those fountains that are so abundant and frequently found and conveniently used around campus, are safe to drink out of.” However, obviously…that was not the finding within the conclusion. The studies you brought to light adhere to quality standards we learned of in class (to my knowledge). And, in the end, these studies are so plentiful and the facts are so blatant, I think it would be unwise to regularly drink from these fountains. Even as a skeptic of many theories such as this, I will be steering clear of these fountains in the future.
    However, it raises some questions. This information was obviously abundant. For just the purpose of a blog, you implemented a variety of quality sources. If this information is so abundant, couldn’t we assume that those constructing these fountains and managing the water system for the University would know it also? And I am sure if the University knew, they would actively be seeking to fix this problem. If they aren’t, however, maybe this would give grounds for students to organize and bring this subject to light? This article provides us with some great tips on how to make drinking from fountains safer, and better for our own wellbeing.

  3. Aubree Sylvia Rader

    I really enjoyed reading your blog post on water fountains. I know that whenever I go to get a sip out of a fountain, I question what new taste it will have or what I am actually putting into my body. I found a study through the link posted below that found fecal matter in several samples of water taken from water fountains. I believe that there should be a cleaner system or a way for the fountains to filter the water. There needs to be more regulations and safety checks on fountains so people are not risking their lives by taking an innocent sip of water.

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