Water Fountain at School: An Assessment of the Drinking 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 then, this innovation was considered 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 Washington Post report, public fountains are in crisis, and they are fading in the stadiums, parks, and even schools.

In 2015, the International Plumbing Code reduced the required drinking fountains to be built inside a building in half. Indeed, many people are reluctant to use 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. We will also tackle the current condition of the drinking fountains and evaluate if it is safe for your children to drink water from drinking fountains in schools.

Understanding what is Drinking Fountain

A drinking fountain is a fountain that is specially designed to provide drinking water to people. It has a basin that can have a tap or 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 filters 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. In the same year, the first drinking fountain was built on Holborn Hill, Cumbria, which was paid for 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, also known as ‘Bubbler,’ has one water shot 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 fountain's design has an arc that 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.

What's on the surface?

Other than the tap water contaminated with chemicals and bacteria – the actual fountain itself is probably covered in germs! Drinking fountains are breeding places for germs and bacteria. The more individuals who interact with the public fountain– the more germs there are if we talk about school or stadium fountains, at least hundreds of adults and children a day! This includes water refill stations-if your container comes in with the surface, and it tends to be also contaminated. 

Many researchers in daycare centers have discovered that drinking fountains are common carriers of rotavirus, which is known to cause diarrhea. Researchers have additionally discovered that handles on water fountains were the most contaminated surfaces in public schools. These bubblers are hosts for norovirus and influenza A. The norovirus, best known as the stomach flu, causes vomiting, diarrhea, and stomach cramps. Influenza A can cause high fever, sore throat, chills, and an entire host of different indications that can even prompt hospitalization. 

report from the CDC states that from 2011–2012, 32 drinking water-related outbreaks were accounted for, representing something like 431 instances of disease, 102 hospitalizations, and 14 deaths. 

While all of that is very upsetting, it's genuinely not that surprising. If you are a kid's parent in the public school system, you know the number of germs your child is prone to. Likely because you have encountered them interacting with no less than one of the illnesses referenced above.

Fear of People on Drinking Fountains

Many parents are hesitant to enable their children to drink the water from the school water fountain nowadays. However, most municipal waters in the United States are monitored by the government to make them 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 the swimming pools and some of their fear made sense.

Spreading of Polio

Polio is a type of gut virus that is found in human feces. One can get a polio infection from digesting even a few amounts of fecal matter. Thus, the threat of drinking water from the fountains and swimming pools is indeed severe.
Children are prone to polio, especially those who can’t control their bowel movements.
Apart from the pools, children can also acquire poliovirus at birthday parties, movie theaters, and other large gatherings. The greatest danger lies from hard surfaces often touched by hand by the children who are the seats, handles of a drinking fountain, and food counter.
Most of the water in the school drinking fountains is free of germs and diseases. However, the bowl can have infectious mucus because some children spit on the fountain before drinking.
Also, some 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 they 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 Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report, some diseases 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 is run by filters, but it is still contaminated by bacteria in the process.
Meanwhile, Legionnaires’ disease has become a threat even if the overall problem of drinking water has decreased. This is true in the past months, where many people have fallen ill and died in New York City due to Legionnaires’ disease.
The Legionnaires are caused by ‘legionella bacteria,’ which grows in warm water that typically measures about 77 to 108 degrees Fahrenheit. 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.
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 they may bring to the patients and their family members.
In New York City, people blame the contaminated cooling towers for the disease outbreak, and because of this, the Legionella bacteria can grow.

Is your public water fountain safe?

While the ideal way of hydrating is to drink water, there are a couple of hygienic concerns encompassing traditional public water fountains and tap water overall. Besides the shot at contacting germs when we're all over town, unfiltered water fountains are connected to more clear dangers. That is the reason a wide range of facilities are choosing to be proactive and further develop their water system arrangements: 

  • Schools and Universities
  • Healthcare Facilities
  • Office Buildings
  • Gym/Fitness Centers
  • Recreational Parks/Municipalities

Since some water supplies are working with lead plumbing parts, certain public water fountains probably won't be safe to drink from. Even though the water treatment plants work to clean our public tap water, the water at the spout can be contaminated with lead filtered from the old pipes. In 2018, no less than 56 schools in Central Indiana were found to have raised levels of lead in their water fountains. Since our plumbing system is getting older, checking our water quality is a higher priority than ever.

Our tap water can quickly get contaminants as it goes through the pipelines to our homes, public fountains, and community schools. Finding lead in your kid's water can be terrifying to contemplate. However, it's significant to check. There are a couple of important ways of making our drinking water protected and clean. It typically boils down to working on the site with proper point-of-use filtration.

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 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 is the human-made chemicals that accidentally find their way into the public water supply. Today, there are more than 116,000 human-made chemicals that are found in public water systems. These are 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 school pipes may contain lead, and they may sit for long periods during holidays and weekends, allowing contamination in the water.

Some schools get their water source from public supplies, and they do not have a test for toxins. With this, it may contain 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 areas, 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 is 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 additional risk to the children. They are more vulnerable to diseases than adults, who 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 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 buying all the bottled waters, you could see, wait but read more. Bottled waters are just water from the tap that may not be processed or received additional treatment.

Some reports 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.

An independent test conducted by the Environment Working Group revealed that there are at least 38 low-level contaminants in bottled water in ten various brands. It has also been 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 them are phthalates and bisphenol-A (BPA).

In a study done by the National Resources Defense Council (NRDC), it has been found out that about one-third of more than 1,000 bottles that 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 lake's water levels 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.

Water bottles are not the answer to 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.

What Can Be Done?

The most ideal and only way to determine what is in your water is to have it tested. There are water testing agencies all around the country that can give you an expert evaluation of your facility’s water and in case there are any dangers or toxins you should think about. If you are prepared to have your water tested, the EPA has made it simple to find a water testing organization in your area. It is best practice to have your water tested at least once a year. It would help if you likewise had it tested if you or one more facility close to you is under construction, as this might slacken debris from the pipes and transport it into your drinking water. 

Additional DIY water testing kits are accessible, assuming you need to get a speedy and easy sample of what sort of contamination you might be checking out. While these are not a viable alternative for an expert evaluation, they can give you a thought of how many bacteria are on that water cooler in the break room.

Clean for Clean Water

Contaminants that come from pipes or different sources before they even get to your faucet should go through professional handling to be fixed. But keeping the bacteria out of your drinking materials is, however, simple as ensuring it seems to be appropriately kept up with. 
  • Water fountains—particularly those in facilities with children should be cleaned at least once a day. 
  • The whole fountain surface should be washed with disinfectant, including the mouthpiece, protective guard, basin, and handles. They should then be cleaned down with a clean, damp cloth. 
  • Advise people who use your water fountains that they should let the water run for a few seconds before taking a drink. This can aid in flushing a portion of the bacteria before you take it in. 
Community fountains and coolers are extraordinary for furnishing your office with water and for uniting individuals. Ensure yours are clean as they seem to be refreshing.

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, and 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.

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


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