What's Lurking in School Water Fountains?

Schools are banning soda, sports drinks and chocolate milk for health reasons. Bottled water is getting the ax for environmental reasons. What's a thirsty student to do? Not drink from the water fountain, many students say, for fear of germs, toxins and general grossness. But are their fountain fears unfounded, or should they stay away?

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school water fountains safety

It Just Doesn't Look Clean

Your child may dismiss the school water fountain with a shrug, noting that the grimy, discolored spigot and drain simply looks dirty. And your child may not be incorrect. The crevices of water fountain spigots can be brutal to clean. Since they also harbor sitting water, they're an ideal place for bacteria and mold to grow. In fact, tests at some schools have found the surfaces of their water fountains to contain vastly higher counts of these disease-carrying microorganisms than school toilet seats.

Hazards from Below

Reports of school drinking water containing unsafe elements are not uncommon. One of the biggest fears is lead. A person who ingests too much lead can develop brain disorders and problems with the nervous system. Since children are particularly vulnerable to lead poisoning, high lead levels in school drinking water are especially alarming.

Older schools with outdated pipes may seem like the most obvious culprits for contaminated water. However, even new schools have been found to have lead and other contaminants in their water. But just because one school has lead in its water doesn't mean all schools do. Many schools are checked for contaminants and are found to be perfectly safe. The key is to have the water periodically tested.

Pursuing Potables for Parched Students

If your child is worried about the safety of drinking from school water fountains, there are a few possible solutions. First, if the school doesn't allow disposable water bottles because of environmental concerns, consider sending him or her to school with a reusable water bottle. These bottles can be filled at home and cleaned regularly to ensure that they're safe.

Also, before jumping to conclusions about school water fountains, consider having them tested. If the fountains are found to be dirty due to a lack of adequate cleaning procedures, then shining a light on the issue may encourage the school to changes its ways. Access to clean drinking water is fundamental to survival; a school shouldn't be a place where a child has to question whether or not it's ok to drink the water.

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