Volume 96, Issue 67
Wednesday, January 29, 2003

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What dangers lurk in your water bottle?
Study discovers bacteria

By Anton Vidgen
Gazette Staff

Think you're doing the environment a favour by reusing your water bottle? A university study suggests that filling up your old plastic friend without proper sanitation could actually be hazardous to your health.

Traces of vomit-causing bacteria and other harmful germs were found in the reused water bottles of elementary school students, said Cathy Ryan, co-author of the study and an assistant professor of geology and geophysics at the University of Calgary.

"We think [the bacteria] come from the kids' hands," Ryan said, adding the bacteria transferred to water bottles thrive in the moist and backwash-rich environment.

Of the bottles tested, nine per cent had fecal coliform contamination (which can lead to E. coli), 13 per cent total coliform (can cause vomit and diarrhea) and 64 per cent heterotrophic bacteria, all of which would prompt a boil-water advisory, Ryan confirmed.

Ryan recommended that reusers not share their bottles and reminded people to maintain good hygiene. "The real take-home message is wash your hands," she said.

Tom Partalas, a public health inspector with the Middlesex-London Health Unit, generalized the problem and said it was not limited to just water bottles. "When you have a multi-touch of anything – it could be a pencil – it could result in a problem," he said.

Partalas suggested various remedies to counter the contaminants. "If you do reuse the bottles, wash them often," he said, adding a little bit of bleach and a thorough rinse and dry would adequately cleanse them, but replacing the bottles altogether would be the best move.

Partalas also warned frequent reusers they are at higher risk for contracting illness from the bacteria. "Chances are that you will come down with [a disease]," he said.

Bottle reusers across campus offered differing opinions of the study, but all agreed they would reconsider their bottle reusing habits.

"I am quite disgusted actually," said Emily Ow, a second-year science student. "I will probably start rinsing it out and start changing it often."

"From a marketing perspective, the results of this study are great for the bottled water companies," said Jessica Frisch, a business 020 lecturer and a closet bottle reuser. "If people are motivated to purchase new bottles of water rather than reusing their old ones, sales will be driven upward."

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