School Drinking Fountain: An Assessment of the Water Condition and its Safeness to Children

Before the popularity of the bottled waters, there are public drinking fountains where you can drink water and quench your thirst.

Drinking fountains were first introduced in the community in the mid-1800s. Back at that time, this innovation was considered as a sign of prestige and abundance of the community since only a few communities can afford to have one.

With this innovation, clean drinking water became available to people from all walks of life for free.

Nowadays, drinking fountains are not as widely used unlike in the past years. According to the report of Washington Post, public fountains are in crisis and they are fading in the stadiums, parks, and even schools.

In 2015, the International Plumbing Code reduced the number of required drinking fountains to be built inside a building into the half. Indeed, many people are reluctant to the use of water from this structure because of the rumors that it is not maintained well and the water is polluted.

Also, the public fountain is used by many people including the sick. But, do public fountains such as those that can be found in the school pose a risk to your children?

Thus, in this article, we will discuss the brief history of the drinking fountain and the possible contaminants found on it. We will also tackle the current condition of the drinking fountains and evaluate if it is really safe for your children to drink water from drinking fountain in schools.

Understanding what is Drinking Fountain

A drinking fountain is a fountain which is specially designed to provide drinking water to people. It has a basin which can have a tap or a running water.

If one wishes to drink from the fountain, he needs to bend to the stream of water and swallow directly from it.

Modern drinking fountains contain water filter that can process and remove impurities from the water. You can also see it today in public places like libraries, hospitals, grocery stores, and schools.

Brief History of the Drinking Fountain

In the mid-19th century London, the population began to grow and the water supply for the people is inadequate and it is usually contaminated.

The legislative branch of the government formed the Metropolitan Commission of Sewers that mandated to make water filtration compulsory. They have also advised that water intakes must be moved above the sewage outlets, specifically in the Thames.

With this, the revolution onwards clean drinking water started and they have started building public drinking fountains plus public baths for the people.

In 1850, the Metropolitan Free Drinking Fountain Association was established. On the same year, the first drinking fountain was built on Holborn Hill, Cumbria which was paid by Samuel Gurney. This was built on the railings of the church of St. Sepulchre-without-Newgate.  

The fountain was used by almost 7,000 people each day and it became popular in the area. The following year, about 85 more fountains were built which were mostly funded by private associations.

Soon, people associated the building of drinking fountains with the temperance movement since it became a substitute for alcohol drinking. They also decided to put the drinking fountains outside the public houses or establishments licensed to sell alcoholic drinks.

Meanwhile, the drinking fountains in the United States were built in 1889 by the Kohler Water Works (now known as the Kohler Company) in Wisconsin.

The original design of the drinking fountain or also known as ‘Bubbler’ has one shot of water that measures about one inch straight into the air. It creates a bubbling texture and the excess water gets back to the side areas of the nozzle.

In the past years, the design of the fountain has an arc which allows people to drink easily from it. However, at the start of the 20th century, it was found out that drinking fountains contain viruses that can affect many people.

Fear of People on Drinking Fountains

Many parents are hesitant to enable their children to drink the water from the school water fountain nowadays, although, it is clear that the majority of the municipal waters in the United States are monitored by the government to make it safe and free of germs. The water that comes out of the taps of your homes, school fountains and fire hydrants are all the same.

This could be due to the fear passed by grandparents and parents to their children/ grandchildren. Some of the older generations experienced the issues of polio in the 1950s.

Since then, Americans are afraid of the public drinking fountains, just as how they fear of the swimming pools and some of their fear actually made sense.

Spreading of Polio

Polio is a type of gut virus which is found in the human feces. One can get a polio infection from digesting even few amounts of the fecal matter. Thus, the threat of drinking water from the fountains and swimming pools are indeed serious.

Children are prone to polio, especially those who can’t control their bowel movements.

Apart from the pools, children can also acquire poliovirus in birthday parties, movie theaters, and any other large gatherings. The greatest danger lies from hard surfaces often touched by hand by the children which are the seats, handles of a drinking fountain, and food counter.

Most of the water in the school drinking fountains are free of germs and diseases. However, the bowl can have infectious mucus because some of the children spit on the fountain before drinking.

Also, some of the animal owners even let their pets drink on public fountains which may cause the transmission of germs from pets to humans.

The parts of the drinking fountain that can be contaminated easily are the handle and the rim because this can be touched by the hands. This is also the same with the parts of our house and public places which can be touched by the hands such as the doorknobs, poles in the subway, and many other places that can be transmitted with viruses and bacteria from mucus, cough, or feces.

Legionnaires’ Disease

However, there are occasions where the water itself is unsafe. According to the report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, some disease and deaths in America were associated with unclean water in 2011-2012.

The majority of the cases are due to E.coli, giardia, norovirus, and other pathogens. According to the study, these cases were mostly due to the water source from the lakes, springs, and wells near the septic tanks.

This is also true in urban areas with problematic plumbic systems. The water source in the cities are run by filters, but in the process, it is still contaminated by bacteria.

Meanwhile, the Legionnaires’ disease has become a threat even if the overall problem on drinking water has decreased. This is true in the past months, where there are many people who have fallen ill and died in New York City due to the Legionnaires’ disease.

The Legionnaire’s is caused by ‘legionella bacteria’ which grows in warm water that typically measures about 77 to 108 degrees Fahrenheit. As such, it usually grows in hot water tanks, hot tubs, large plumbing systems, and fountains. People who stay near such structures are at risk of inhaling the contaminated water vapor and get sick due to the bacteria.

The Legionnaires’ disease is a severe type of pneumonia. Its signs and symptoms include shortness of breath, muscle aches, high fever, and headaches. Also, this disease can be fatal especially to those who have not been immunized.

The bacteria of the Legionnaire can grow in school drinking fountains too. In a 2010 case, the drinking water in the lobby of a hospital located in Wisconsin has affected eight patients. The bacteria has grown in the foam material of the fountain. Since then, all hospital fountains were permanently shut down because of the threat that it may bring to the patients and their family members.

In New York City, people blame the contaminated cooling towers for the outbreak of the disease and because of this, the Legionella bacteria can grow.

Current Condition of Water from Drinking Fountain

If you have a strong immune system and you are healthy, your chance of catching a disease from a drinking fountain is relatively low.

The water that is used in the public school fountains is the same water that comes out of the taps at homes, assuming that you are located in a municipal supplied area. In some instances, it is indeed possible that several water-borne diseases can pass through this water.

An urgent concern of most of the water supply nowadays are the human-made chemicals that accidentally find their way in the public water supply. Today, there are more than 116,000 human-made chemicals that are found on the public water systems. These are the pharmaceutical drugs such as pills, tablets, and topical.

This can be excreted in feces and urine and flushed down in the toilet or drain. Many of these problems cannot be removed even by the standard process of water-treatment.

Also, the old-aged water pipes of America can become a toxic source of water that many people failed to recognize. It can produce copper, lead, and other harmful bacteria in the water. With this, it is best to install a water filter inside your home to have a safer source of drinking water for the whole family.

The Safeness of Water in School Drinking Fountain

Thus, the drinking fountain at your child’s school may not be safe. The pipes of the school may contain lead and it may sit for long periods of time during holidays and weekends, which allows contamination in the water.

There are also schools that get their water source from public supplies and they do not have a test for toxins. With this, it is possible that it contains harmful contaminants and no one would even know about it.

According to the United States Environmental Protection Agency, thousands of schools in America both in the urban and rural area had contaminated drinking water from the fountains due to chemicals and other toxins. Some of the contaminants found are lead, arsenic, copper, and nitrates.

Indeed, the water situation in the United States are alarming and the risks are apparent especially when you talk about the drinking water of your children in their school.

Toxins in the drinking water pose an extra risk to the children. They are more vulnerable to diseases than adults which can cause grave problems in the end.

Aside from the contaminated water of the drinking fountains, it also contains about 62,000 to 2.7 million of bacteria on its physical structure.

Bottled Waters versus Drinking Fountains

If these talks about contaminated water from the drinking fountain had you moving to the grocery store and buy all the bottled waters that you can see, wait but read more. Bottled waters are just water from the tap that may not be processed or received additional treatment.

There are reports that indicate that the bottled waters are less pure than the municipal waters since the city has stricter regulations in providing clean waters for the community.

In an independent test conducted by the Environment Working Group, it has revealed that there are at least 38 low-level contaminants in bottled water in ten various brands. It has also found out that there are by-products such as industrial chemicals, nitrate, Tylenol, caffeine, arsenic, and other bacteria in the water.

When you buy bottled water in the stores, it is not the water alone that is contaminated. The plastic bottle can also pose a serious threat to the user due to the chemicals in the plastic bottle that may leach the water. Some of it is the phthalates and the bisphenol-A (BPA).

In a study done by the National Resources Defense Council (NRDC), it has been found out that about one-third in more than 1,000 bottles which are tested for purity contained bacteria, arsenic, and other chemicals.

Furthermore, big companies bottle their water out of the nearby lakes, streams, and make rivers mudflats. The water levels of the lake have dropped tremendously and there are now sinkholes that appear near the bottling plants.

Most of these big companies do not pay or contribute anything to the destruction of the environment. Some of them don’t even pay their correct taxes. And yet, they make $1.8 million of profits per day or more.

Definitely, water bottles are not the answer for your issue on unclean water and as you buy bottled water, you are helping destroy the environment and making big companies earn more from their businesses.

Conclusion

In a nutshell, the water from the school drinking fountain is not 100% safe because of various factors. There are viruses from the structure itself, the pipes can be contaminated which can affect the water. Furthermore, the immune system of children are weak and they are prone to several water-borne diseases.

If you do not want your kids to drink from the public drinking fountain and you don’t want to waste your money by using bottled waters, a simple solution could be allowing them to bring their own reusable water bottle with a filter such as the Sport Berkey Water Bottle.


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