Students, experts examine cleanliness of bottled, tap H20

By Felix Sarver

When it comes to safe drinking water, Joseph Zozzaro chooses bottled water over tap.

The senior kinesiology major said he has yet to see a contaminated water bottle. Many of the water fountains offered on campus not only look rusted but taste rusty, he said.

“It’s a little sad seeing people drink from these,” Zozzaro said. “God knows how much rust they’re going to be getting.”

However, NIU’s tap water is regularly tested by DeKalb and any rusty taste is usually the result of stagnant water in building pipes, said Melissa Lenczewski, associate professor in geology and environmental geosciences.

Lenczewski spoke with members of the Green Paws Environmental Alliance about the issue and plans to advise them on how other campuses, like the University of Vermont, successfully reduced water bottle use, said Sarah Wawerski, the club’s president.

The club decided during a meeting Wednesday to circulate a petition, set up a committee and encourage students to bring their own canteens in order to reduce water bottle use.

The water distributed at NIU comes from DeKalb, Chief Assistant Engineer Kevin Howard said. The plants on campus draw water samples monthly and submit them to DeKalb Water Resources, a division of the DeKalb Public Works department, for microbiological analysis. A report on the levels of various contaminants in the water is submitted yearly as well. Bottled water suppliers are not required to provide such reports, Howard said in an email.

“Where did the water come from?” Howard said. “Was it bottled in DeKalb? Was it bottled in this country? The bottled you are drinking may contain toxins. How do you know?”

The water in DeKalb goes through ion exchange softening and iron removal in five treatment plants to ensure safety, said Bryan Faivre, assistant director of public works. The softening process reduces water contaminants like calcium, magnesium and radium.

DeKalb Water Resources runs tests on iron, fluoride, phosphate, chlorine and bacteria weekly, he said. Radium samples may be taken quarterly or every three years depending on how frequently radium is detected at a treatment plant. Radium levels have not exceeded the EPA limit of five picocuries per liter in the past decade, Faivre said.