By Sayre Quevedo.
During the beginning of my freshman year, the carbonated citrus drink Orangina was big on campus. When I had extra change to spare, I would schlep across the school quad to the vending machines and grab one. Then one day, Orangina and sodas disappeared from vending machines at my San Francisco public high school in compliance with a state law banning the sale of soft drinks in high schools during the school day.
Now, a new California law aims to promote even healthier drinking habits by making water more accessible to students throughout the state. SB1413 requires schools to provide access to free fresh water in cafeterias by July 1st, 2011.
Some schools have gone as far as installing full-blown hydration stations, allowing students to fill reusable bottles (preferably not plastic) with filtered water. Other schools are making due with water fountains. And then there are schools that plan to utilize an opt out provision that allows schools to claim financial hardship. Many critics call the provision an unnecessary loophole that will adversely affect students’ health.
My school, Ruth Asawa School of the Arts in San Francisco (SOTA), is going the route of relying on water fountains to comply with the new law. But rumors of lead-laden pipes and germ-covered spouts keep many of my fellow students from actually using the fountains. Instead, a lot of my friends tend to drink minimal amounts of water, taking sips from the fountain only when absolutely necessary or buying bottled water or energy drinks from the vending machines.
This month, I put water fountains across San Francisco Unified School District to the test with the help of Darleen Franklin, a researcher in San Francisco State University’s biology department. She examined the bacterial content of fountain water in three district schools. Our reporting also looks into the water supply at Oakland Unified School District. For more than six years, the East Bay Academy for Young Scientists at UC Berkeley’s Lawrence Hall of Science has enlisted students to test mineral content in samples from water fountains across that district, where they’ve reported lead levels above EPA standards.
Check out the slide show to find out the results of our water tests, and to learn more about the challenges of getting students and schools to make water a priority.
Youth Radio Investigates is an NSF-supported science reporting series in which young journalists collect and analyze original data with professional scientists, and then tell unexpected stories about what they discover.
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