Facilities in Process of Installing New Water Filters

After quarantine restrictions were lifted and students returned to campus, filters at water bottle stations remained stagnant — but are now in the process of being replaced.

New filters at campus water bottle filling stations began installation over winter break, less than a month after an article about the filters was published by The Phoenix. Accompanying the new filters, Facilities placed stickers with QR codes over the filters’ indicator lights, which are now incompatible with the new brand of filter.

The QR code on the stickers, found on the Lake Shore, Water Tower and Health Sciences campuses, leads to information about the new filters and the quality of Lake Michigan water, which Loyola uses. Water from Lake Michigan exceeds state, federal and industry standards, according to the site and the Chicago Tribune. Filters are expected to be completely updated by the end of summer 2024.

The filters were removed from water bottle filling stations during the pandemic since they were no longer in use but weren’t reimplemented for three years following students’ return to campus, The Phoenix previously reported.

After the previous article was published Nov. 29, chemistry professor Daniel Becker wrote in an email to The Phoenix that the university’s covering of the filter lights with stickers was concerning. Over the past two years, Becker has advocated for updated filters and more transparency from Facilities.

“Covering the lights with a QR code with information about Lake Michigan water — that is absolutely monstrous and unconscionable,” Becker wrote.

Hamlet Gonzalez, assistant vice president for Facilities and Campus Operations, said Facilities’ decided to put the sticker over the filter light because it was the area most likely to catch users’ attention.

“We’re not trying to hide anything,” Gonzalez said. “We’re trying to figure out, ‘What’s the balance of how much do we give people in terms of information that they can actually digest?’”

Gonzalez said communicating the message about the filter rollout has been a struggle because Facilities doesn’t want to overload the public with too much information about the filters and water quality on the signs but doesn’t want to give too little, either.

“I know that the lights are a big sticking point,” Gonzalez said. “They’re easy to digest and understand, but they’re just half of the equation.”

Northwestern University faced a similar struggle in communicating their reasons for changing their water filters, according to Gonzalez. Northwestern didn’t respond to requests for comment.

About 95% of the water bottle filling stations on Loyola’s campus are from the Elkay Manufacturing Company, according to Shaun Terranova, director of occupational health and safety. While the indicator lights won’t function with the new Triple Clear Force Field Filters, the filters can still be retrofitted onto Elkay fountains, Terranova wrote in an email to The Phoenix.

Elkay Customer Care Coordinator May Stork said the company recommends using their brand of filters because non-Elkay filters won’t work properly with water bottle filling stations. 

Terranova said the flow indicator lights are meant to work with an Elkay filter but because Facilities has changed the brand of filter, those lights no longer function. She said Mike Fehr, owner of Loyola’s water consultancy firm Fehr Solutions, recommended the switch from Elkay filters to Triple Clear filters.

In an email to The Phoenix, Fehr confirmed the recommendation and referred to a data sheet also available through the QR code.

Filters from Triple Clear Water Solutions have 400 layers of filtration and are less susceptible to microbial growth, Terranova wrote in an email to The Phoenix. The company claims to have 99% success in filtering microbial threats like bacteria and viruses.

Instead of using lights to know when to change filters, Facilities said it will monitor the volume of water coming from the filters, as higher filter usage leads to pollutant buildup which ultimately leads to less water output. Once the water stream stops, the filter will be changed. All filters will be replaced every two years regardless of filter status, Terranova wrote in an email to The Phoenix.

The rollouts at Water Tower and Health Sciences campuses are almost complete, Terranova said. Implementation at Lake Shore will take longer because the campus is larger, she said. Since the university uses a variety of Elkay models, the time it takes to change filters varies.

Second-year Anja Royko said putting stickers over the lights seemed unnecessary.

“If they’re already placing a sticker over there, they can just put a sign or something instead,” Royko said. “I feel like an email would be fine.”

Royko said she prefers water from her Brita filter at her apartment because the campus water can sometimes taste strange.

“It always tastes a little off, but never enough to where I’m actually concerned about it,” she said.

Third-year Amanda McGreal said she’d seen the stickers but hadn’t used the QR code.

“I thought it was, like, a club put it up there for information,” McGreal said. “Putting it in a poster above the water fountains instead, I feel people would pay more attention.”

Featured Image by Ryan Pittman / The Phoenix

Mao Reynolds

Mao Reynolds