Unfiltered: a rising concern for Blair's water fountains

Oct. 24, 2019, 4:30 p.m. | By Vivian Li | 4 years, 7 months ago

MCPS investment in single use plastic bottles diverts funds from fountain filters

Behind a "green" facade, MCPS recently revealed $415,000 allotted for single-use plastic water bottles in their 2018-2019 fiscal budget. Simultaneously, Blair's robust bottle-refilling fountains are characterized by always-faulty filters, marked with a red status light that signifies the new machine is hardly doing its job. While the county preaches a stance of environmental sustainability, their newest innovation in water distribution systems goes underused for key reasons. Why?

As it turns out, the filter status is a false indicator of water quality. Principal Renay Johnson and Building Services Manager Alain Perron revealed that these fountains don't have filters at all. Instead, the status is determined by the amount of water that has passed through the system. "The filter light needs to be disabled because there is no filter and there's no way to change the filter," Johnson said. "It's the same water, but rather at a water station."

This miscommunication has negative implications, as a red filter status disincentivizes students to approach the fountains, decreasing their utility altogether. "I don't know if [the filter status] is accurate, but if it's yellow or red, I just don't go to it," junior Jury Medrano says. "I just go to the old-fashioned ones, even though it tastes like creek water and makes my water bottle smell bad."

Students bring reusable bottles from home to mitigate the suspicious water and excessive waste. Junior Abby Kusmin, Green Club member and founder of Blair Silent Strike, makes the case. “It's a good way to make sure that you stay hydrated without constantly buying water bottles and creating unnecessary waste," she says.

Aside from harmful waste, Medrano points out an immediate health concern posed by plastic bottles. "My tech teacher told me that reusable bottles are better because the water is contaminated by the plastic," she says. 

Medrano brings her own stainless steel bottle to school every day, but she's left without options when she runs out of water. "Sometimes I'll actually be really thirsty, and although I don't really like the water here, I just have to drink it anyway because I need it," she says.

Blair fountains consistently display a red filter status.

Other students corroborate her concerns. "The water in the fountains is powdery," junior Yesenia Cruz says. Senior Alanna Sibrian points to the fountains on the second and third floors as culprits. "They're so murky because they have so much chlorine," she says. "It doesn't look safe."

MCPS fails to reflect the needs of its students, who express the urgency for clean water climate action. With hundreds of thousands of dollars set aside annually for plastic bottles that come with every distributed meal, Kusmin believes the county could easily fund filtered fountains that students actually feel secure about. "I think that the administration needs to be more responsible with their budget," she says. "They should think about how they can provide for the needs of students while staying sustainable."

However, even without these additional filters, Perron explains that MCPS takes precautions to keep their water systems clean. "Every morning, we do a five-minute daily flush of all of the locations you can get drinking water from," he says. "It's just an added precaution to make sure that any lead in the system stays down."

Perron joined Blair's staff this past July, previously working at Bethesda-Chevy Chase High School. While they had some filtered water fountains, he explains that the students paid for it by fundraising. "If the students at Blair are interested, then we should be able to get water bottle filters," Perron says. "I support going through the process of getting filters."

Principal Johnson is also on board. "I'm always looking for the latest and greatest innovative thing for our school," Johnson says. "If there were filters to be changed, I would purchase them."

Last updated: Oct. 24, 2019, 4:31 p.m.

Tags: environment water fountains

Vivian Li. Hi! I love all things journalism, art, and the environment. When I'm not working on an article, I enjoy browsing fashion, baking, running, and reading. I'm a huge health nut and I love researching new recipes. At Blair, I'm on the debate and DECA team … More »

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