Because the water people drink goes through multiple systems before it reaches consumers' cups, there can be many reasons for poor water quality.
Though the health advocacy organization Environmental Working Group said campus water is in compliance with health standards, Andrew Whelton, professor of civil engineering and environmental and ecological engineering, said that it was not using day-to-day water on campus for testing.
“A lot of the (water) testing that is conducted, is conducted as the water leaves the treatment facility, not inside the buildings where people are using it,” Whelton said.
After several complaints from students and staff about foul-tasting water, The Exponent conducted its own tests at the water fountains at Meredith Hall and Stewart Center, locations that have garnered a negative attention for their drinking water quality.
The $10.68 Labtech Drinking Water Analysis Kit test was conducted by filling a plastic tube with the water being tested and then dipping a strip with pads that change color. The colors indicate the levels of eight factors affecting water quality, such as chlorine, copper, pH level, iron, etc.
The water in the basement of Stewart appeared to have two elements above the standard.
The total hardness — the amount of calcium carbonate and magnesium in the water — was measured at 450 parts per million, far surpassing the “OK zone.” Less than 100 ppm is acceptable by Environmental Protection Agency standards. The alkalinity, which is a measure of the capacity of water to neutralize acids, was tested to be 240 ppm, with the “OK zone” for alkalinity being 40-120 ppm.
The water collected from the first floor of Meredith on the southeast wing also proved to hit most of the EPA standards except for the alkalinity value, which was measured at 180 ppm.
Even though the water fulfills most standards, some residents are not satisfied with it.
“It tastes old, like it’s been in the pipe for too long,” said Carla Choka, a freshman in Exploratory Studies living at Meredith.
Whelton emphasized that safety standards and aesthetic standards are separate when it comes to drinking water.
“You can have bad tasting water that’s safe,” Whelton said.
Whelton explained that the water we drink goes from the pipes at the water treatment facility to storage tanks — where it can sit for long periods of time — and then to a water meter before going through the building’s plumbing and reaching us through faucets.
“Water can go through either hot-water plumbing or cold-water plumbing in the building. How long that water sits in the plumbing before reaching somebody will impact what chemicals, bacteria and other organisms are in the water,” Whelton said. “The older the water is, the more chemicals, bacteria and microorganisms are in the water.”
Having published an article on the topic in a scientific journal, Whelton explained that how long water sits in the pipes, or water age, ultimately affects the taste of it along with other factors.
He said the worst quality water in residential halls is when students return after break, when the water has sat in the pipes for a long time with little water flow going in and out of the pipes. Continuous water flow flushes out the bacteria and the chemicals that make water taste bad.
According to Whelton’s paper, Minerals in Drinking Water: Impacts on Taste and Importance to Consumer Health, “metals such as magnesium, iron, copper, zinc and manganese influence taste.”
“It doesn’t break any laws, having bad tasting water. It may not be drinkable, but it’s not necessarily causing you harm,” Whelton said.