Drinking Fountains and Public Health: Improving National Water Infrastructure to Rebuild Trust and Ensure Access

Published: February 27, 2017
Authors: Rapichan Phurisamban and Peter Gleick
Pages: 18

dfphPublic drinking fountains are disappearing across the U.S., yet many people – including children, commuters, joggers, tourists, and the homeless – rely on them for cheap, accessible, and safe municipal water. Concerns over drinking water quality and possible disease transmission as well as widely-publicized water contamination incidents are both contributing factors in the decline. Are drinking fountains truly a cause of illness? What would it take to rebuild public trust in this important water infrastructure so drinking fountains can continue to be a safe, accessible resource for those who rely on them?

In this Pacific Institute report, the authors examine epidemiology studies and other evidence of drinking fountain-related health issues. They find limited evidence of a causal relationship between illness and the use of drinking fountains. Further, problems that were identified can be traced to contamination from poor cleaning and maintenance or from old water infrastructure in buildings, rather than contamination at the point of use, and these problems can be fixed.

To ensure the safety and continuance of this valuable public resource, the report authors recommend:

  • Establishing comprehensive monitoring and testing of all drinking fountains;
  • Developing and implementing standard protocols for water fountain maintenance, repair, and replacement;
  • Creating broad nationwide efforts to replace old water infrastructure, especially distribution and plumbing systems, with modern piping to eliminate sources of lead, copper, and microbial contamination;
  • Upgrading the type and function of older drinking fountains, for example, by installing filters;
  • Greatly increasing the number of fountains to improve access to municipal water in public places;
  • Engaging municipalities, schools, park districts, and others responsible for drinking fountains in communications efforts to help rebuild public confidence in fountains;
  • Using new tools to compile and distribute information on where to find drinking fountains and to assess and report on their condition.

These actions would help ensure that drinking fountains remain clean, safe, and accessible to the public.

Read the full report here.