Green Team tests indicate low water quality from fountains

February 4, 2022 — by Carolyn Wang
Photo by Carolyn Wang
The journalism room fountain’s water had a TDS level of 245 ppm.
Senior Green Team president Cici Xu noticed abnormalities when comparing the impurity levels of different fountains

Senior Green Team president Cici Xu spent her Jan. 25 tutorial walking around campus holding what looked like a small ruler, and dipping it into water samples collected from various fountains and dispensers.

What she discovered surprised her.

The numbers on her TDS meter — the device used to measure the amount of total dissolved solids in water — indicated that the impurity level of the water at school was abnormally high, even with  filtration systems in place.

“I just had this immediate shock and sense of guilt for not doing this earlier,” Xu said. “The water quality turned out to be scary.”

Based on a report Xu presented to the School Site Council (SSC), the TDS level of the water fountain in room 303 measured at 245 parts per million (ppm), the highest out of all the fountains on campus. Following this was 236 ppm for the music building water fountain, 215 ppm for the robotics wing fountain, 202 ppm for the fountain next to room 602, 198 ppm for the 001 wing fountain, 197 ppm for the fountain next to the library, 193 ppm for the fountain in the gym lobby and 190 ppm for the fountain in front of room 200. 

In all, the impurity levels of all the water fountains on campus averaged at 209.5 ppm.

TDS levels of the room 303 fountain and music building water fountain exceeded that of the unfiltered tap water from the girls’ restrooms in the robotics wing and social studies wing, which measured at 220 ppm and 232 ppm, respectively.

To compare, Xu measured samples of filtered tap water at her home and of bottled water, averaging 25 ppm and 22 ppm respectively, about one-tenth of the school’s drinking water impurity level. Ideal drinking water, based on Xu’s report, ranges between  0-50 ppm, while the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s maximum contaminant level falls at 500 ppm.

“[The data] indicates that the water that we drink from water fountains is not filtered, or the [filter company] Haws Co.’s filters have not been working,” Xu said. “We’re drinking the same quality water as the water that we use in the restrooms to wash our hands.”

Xu said there are still many assessments needed to discover whether the solids in the water are other chemicals, or just regular minerals beneficial to the body before a definite conclusion is made. A dirty filter likely contributed to the high numbers and was recently replaced. 

Xu initially came up with the idea of testing the school’s water when brainstorming project proposals for the SSC to take on. She received overwhelming support from senior Christopher Liu’s mom, Jessica Liu, who is the chair of SSC.

“Her son plays basketball and they have all complained about the nasty taste of the water from the gym, so she said I should definitely do this,” Xu said. “She provided me with the TDS meter stick that I used to test out the fountains.”

According to Liu, who works closely with principal Greg Louie, one of the project’s initial objectives was to see whether improving water quality of the fountains would encourage students to refill their water rather than use plastic bottles, which would also be a step forward for the school’s series of green initiatives.

Now that Xu has collected the data, Liu said that next steps include seeing whether the school or maintenance team can take steps to resolve the issue.

“Oftentimes, I’ve heard people who don’t like to drink from school water fountains because of weird smells or tap-water tastes,” she said. “[Using the data collected], perhaps we can suggest that the school or district consider a higher-end drinking water system.”

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