Loyola students seem to be using water bottle-filling stations on campus so much that the university can’t keep up.
Following Loyola’s plastic water bottle ban in 2012, more than 100 stations with filtered water were installed throughout the university’s three Chicago campuses. Now, Loyola’s facilities department — which is in charge of maintaining campus buildings — relies on students to report expired filters, according to Richard Jacques, the director of facilities for Loyola’s Lake Shore Campus.
The department checks the filters once a year, but if a filter expires between check-ups, the department relies on individuals to report expired filters based on the filter-indicator lights on most stations, according to Jacques.
Loyola uses Elkay ezH2O fill stations to give students access to filtered water directly from Lake Michigan. Loyola uses filters from the National Sanitation Foundation (NSF) which filter carbon, lead and chlorine taste and odor, according to NSF’s website.
Most of the fill stations have three different lights — green, yellow and red — which indicate the overall function of the filter. Green indicates everything’s in working condition, yellow means the filter is working but needs to be replaced soon, and red means it reached 100 percent of its life-span and should be replaced swiftly, according to Elkay’s website.
Expired filters are harmful because the contaminants they protected against are released back into the water, according to Sasha Adkins, Ph.D., an environmental health lecturer at Loyola.
Lead being released back into the drinking water can cause health effects, such as cardiovascular problems, decreased kidney function and reproductive impairments, according to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).
Adkins recommended finding other ways to make sure drinking water is filtered, such as a Kishu filtration stick, which filters water without using plastic and is able to biodegrade.
Of the Loyola filtered stations, eight don’t have the indicator lights, according to Hamlet Gonzalez, assistant director of campus operations for facilities — meaning it’s unclear if the filter expires before facilities does its annual check.
Facilities estimates the 107 on-campus fill stations can filter 321,000 gallons total, which equates roughly to 2.5 million 16-ounce water bottles, according to Gonzalez. Most individual filters last for about a year — or 3,000 gallons — before the red light turns on, he said.
Job Coritana, a senior at Loyola who uses the fill stations often, said facilities shouldn’t rely on individuals to report expired filters, calling it a potential “health risk.”
“That can’t be healthy,” Coritana said.
Students have many things to worry about and reporting an expired filter can fall between the cracks and be forgotten, some students say.
“I don’t think that it’s a good idea to rely on students,” Rachael Signorelli, a 23-year-old junior neuroscience major, said. “Because we have so much going on ourselves, that I would feel like that would be the last thing on our mind.”
Other students, including political science major Andrew Fowler, think it’s reasonable to have students report expired filters.
“It makes sense that if students are using it all the time, they’re gonna see the red lights,” the 28-year-old senior said.
Jacques said facilities deals with an average of 76.4 service orders — work requests for repairs of broken items on campus — a day. Filter maintenance orders are generally lower priority compared to other work orders such as broken pipes or malfunctioning equipment. Facilities takes nearly a week to complete a broken filter order on the Lake Shore Campus, but at the Water Tower Campus, filters are changed in about 24 hours, according to Gonzalez.
In 2018, the EPA estimated 110 million Americans were exposed to harmful chemicals in their water, but the environmental watchdog group the Environmental Working Group (EWG) said the number is higher. The EWG tested 44 locations in the U.S. and found potentially harmful chemicals at every site except one.
Some Rogers Park residences have tested positive for lead in the drinking water due to pipe corrosion, The Phoenix reported.