In a busy and often unclean world, there are a lot of concerns about health and germ protection. What’s safe? What isn’t? You may have heard, through either your years of school or through the grape fine, that water fountains are a common hotspot for the breeding of bad bacteria and germs. Is this true?
The water inside fountains is generally safe, however, the water itself can be used as a transporter for germs or bacteria on the surface of the fountain. This is how illness can be easily spread through the use of them.
Water fountains are a great way to prevent water-bottle usage, and are even better in terms of getting water into low-income communities! But if they’re considered unsafe, why have them? Here’s what we know about water fountains, and why they’re considered to be so filthy.
Water fountains had great intentions. They were intended to be used as an incredibly great way to get clean, safe, drinking water to urban cities or places where it may be more uncommon.
However, what once was a great innovation, has now become contaminated and unsanitary. Whilst water fountains are not inherently gross. In fact, the way they’re built is proactive against germs.
The spout of the water is often covered, and the water presents itself in a way that would avoid anyone putting their mouth on it. (If they have any sense.)
Some water dispensers don’t have a spout at all and are just a hole in the basin. On top of this, most water fountains dispense an arc of water, rather than one that goes straight up vertically, so technically speaking, any bacteria from others should be washed away with any remaining water. Meaning no backwash is getting back into the spigot!
Water is also filtered within the fountain to better combat bacteria presenting itself. There’s a common myth that the water inside the fountain gets recycled, which is untrue as well.
Water within the fountain itself stays clean and pure and is discarded the way sink water is, through a pipe. It goes through the same filtering similar to tap water, that doesn’t mean that it’s necessarily cleaner than you would think but at the very least they ARE being filtred and somewhat cleaned
However just because the water, and the process are preventative to keeping water safe, it doesn’t necessarily mean that the water is safe. Water can get contaminated in ways that you may not think of!
How Fountains Become Compromised
So where do we end up seeing, or experiencing, water contamination? Frequently water contamination occurs in a couple of ways, but often it’s from unclean people and unclean pipes!
We hear most about the compromisation of water fountains, in schools. There’s a reason for this, schools are a breeding ground for illness and bacteria. Children are commonly not great at maintaining healthy hands, and because of this when they touch a water fountain they can often spread germs.
There have been multiple studies that go into researching the contamination of water fountains; one found that water fountains are common carriers of rotavirus, which is known to cause diarrhea. They have also found that the buttons or handles on drinking fountains are the most contaminated surfaces in schools.
Often with norovirus or influenza. This means during flu time when everyone’s getting sick around the school, this can be one of the hotspots!
It’s not just children though, adults commonly carry illness. And while you may be led to believe that filling up your water bottle at a water fountain is more sanitary, it isn’t too much better. Unless you’re using a fountain specifically for bottles, often there is still contamination from the spout of the water, or within the basin of the fountain.
Fountains also don’t just become compromised due to others, they also face compromisation through something not on our hands, the water pipes! Water pipes can go years without being checked on or maintained, meaning a number of bacteria can develop without us knowing!
According to the Environmental Protection Agency, or EPA, there is an estimated 60,000 chemicals are being used within the USA to treat water, but the Safe Water Act oversees only 91 contaminants. The five most common contaminants described in the article include nitrates, arsenic, microorganisms like bacteria and viruses, aluminum, and fluoride.
These chemicals or contaminants often come from rusted pipes that have been neglected. You can even find things such as copper, lead, or other issues. Even something as extensive as asbestos. All of which are damaging and can cause a number of health-related issues within schools or businesses.
It’s important to note that some things, like fluoride, are not inherently bad for you. In fact, fluoride is great for dental care. However, we don’t really know the full extent of fluoride in our water. Fluoride at high levels can be dangerous.
According to the Harvard Public Health Department: “high levels of fluoride may be toxic to brain and nerve cells. And human epidemiological studies have identified possible links to learning, memory, and cognition deficits, though most of these studies have focused on populations with fluoride exposures higher than those typically provided by U.S. water supplies.”
Some cleaning supplies even seem to contaminate the water even more. Chlorine can often be used to clean drinking water, but like fluoride when consumed can be dangerous and unhealthy. Especially if an incorrect amount is used, which is more common than you may believe. However, most schools don’t even test their pipes to clean them because of how expensive it is.
Water fountains can be dirty, and they’re certainly unsanitary, however, it’s a much bigger deal than you might think. These issues are a lot deeper for people in low-income communities, these fountains that may get kept up with in other areas get completely neglected in others.
Water fountains could be a great way of getting clean drinking water to places that need it, however, that doesn’t always seem to be the case. Most of these communities are forced to keep up with them themselves, and due to this upkeep being super expensive, they just don’t happen. Which makes the water even dirtier.
If you happen to be in a dirtier area, things like air pollution can even cause issues within the water. Water distribution can be contaminated from the start, and other uncleanliness can leak into surfaces, pipes, and even into the water. Air contaminated with diesel, or just plain dirt can wreak havoc on water distribution.
Some places even require you to buy water bottles as not to drink out of the tap! There’s nothing too awful about
How to Stay Safe
So if they’re becoming contaminated, what do we do? Well, one of our options is to buy bottled water, however, that’s not great for the environment and can still hold some form of contamination. 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. So is there really a safe way to consume anything? We have a couple of ways we can keep water fountains safe.
1. Wash Your Hands More!
Washing your hands seems simple enough, but the cleaner your hands are the less likely you are to spread your own germs onto something. However, this only helps if we ALL wash our hands. Our hands can also pick up other people’s germs, and if we don’t combat that, then we’re going to be in a cycle of trying to make things better.
So it’s super important to make sure we’re not relying on others to stay clean and keep ourselves clean. Whilst it may not seem realistic for you to think of washing your hands every time you touch something, there are some options to consider. Wash your hands before you touch your face, or before you put something in your mouth. Or, hand sanitizer is a GREAT method of always something on hand!
2. Keep Pipes Clean
Making sure our cities are actively keeping up with pipes is incredibly important. The older pipes get, not only the harder it is for them to filter things, but the higher a chance of lead or rust developing within them.
Some older buildings have lead pipes used within their buildings and this can cause a number of issues. One, if they already have drinking fountains, lead can be leaking into the water, and two, if they DON’T people could be using tap water which can be arguable even more dangerous and unfiltered.
Being advocates for your space is super important. While it may not seem like that big of a deal, often schools forget to keep up with them. In the same way that asbestos accumulates in schools so does water contamination. It’s also often something people don’t think of! So make sure you (and everyone else) are up to date on your cities water pipes!
3. Let the Water Run
I know what you’re thinking, ‘oh my gosh I don’t want to waste water,” I know! We all love the planet. However, allowing the water to run for 3 to 5 seconds after pressing down on the lever will allow for any bacteria that has built up around the spigot of the fountain to be washed away. And whilst the water might not be the clean you’d like, it will be cleaner.
5. Don’t Drink For Too Long
This one might seem silly, but the longer you’re around the given area, the more likely germs are going to be distributed onto the surface.
COVID-19 and Water Fountains
At the time of writing this post, we’re currently in the whirlwind of awfulness, that is COVID-19 or Coronavirus. In our current state, we find ourselves being hyperaware of germs. So for something as public as water fountains, and such a infectious disease, whats the deal?
Under current circumstances, water fountains are NOT safe. COVID-19 is incredibly infectious, and while there’s nothing to say that you can get the virus from water, it may linger on surfaces the way other viruses do.
When looking at it, we still don’t have enough knowledge on COVID to say yes or no on whether or not water fountains are extra unsafe with this new virus, but the consensus seems to be, COVID doesn’t make them any grosser or cleaner. Coronavirus is incredibly contagious, which is what makes it so dangerous. While its lethality may be low, it causes a number of health issues on the body that last a lifetime.
Now concerning water fountains and COVID you may be thinking, is it even more dangerous to drink out of fountains now? The answer is yes….and no.
Whilst the drinking fountains are not grosser because of COVID, they’re certainly not cleaner. COVID-19 is incredibly infections, and in a totally communal object being used, the chances of you picking it up are higher.
However, the chances of you picking something else on a water fountain can be just as high, or higher. So yes, COVID-19 does make it more dangerous to drink out of water fountains, however, they were already dangerous to begin with. It’s sort of like adding fuel to a fire. It might have magnified it, but it was already a problem.
So…Can I Drink from Water Fountains?
Like most things in life, you probably shouldn’t…but you can. You probably shouldn’t eat hot dogs, but who really cares?
While it may be dirty, it won’t be the worst thing you’re putting in your body. You have the same chance of picking something up by hanging out in a kindergarten classroom for a few hours. We have immune systems built up for this sort of thing, and the chances of it truly hurting you, while are not 0, are slim.
So don’t worry too much about drinking out of a water fountain, there are things way worse for you out there.