Student organization fights to establish water bottle fill stations on campus
Take Back the Tap is fighting water privatization by educating Rutgers students about safe drinking water. Now, they are campaigning for water bottle fill stations on campus.
Hannah Mulligan, a School of Arts and Sciences sophomore, works with the Take Back the Tap organization.
“Right now there's a very big scare about tap water safety,” Mulligan said. “People are reacting by buying water from private sources, such as bottled water, but that's the opposite direction we need to move in because that encourages water privatization, which is a lot of the reason that we have the current water crisis that we do.”
Contrary to what many people assume about bottled water, it is not necessarily any safer than tap water, Mulligan said. Whereas municipally sourced water must, by law, be tested according to certain standards, there is no independent organization tasked with testing bottled water, Mulligan said.
The only regulation is carried out by a small agency within the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), she said.
School of Arts and Sciences junior Megan Kenny says that water privatization is not only a safety issue but a political one as well.
“When water sources become privatized, water becomes a commodity for sale that people can profit off of,” Kenny said. “There's no reason for corporations to be profiting off of something that everyone needs to live. So the point of fighting water privatization is to keep water cheap, safe and accessible. The track record with companies that privatize water is that it becomes less of all those things.”
Municipalities will often contract their water services to private corporations like American Water, who handled New Brunswick's water supply until August 2015, Kenny said. When that happens, the price of water increases for residents of the city.
Currently, Take Back the Tap is working on getting water bottle fill stations installed in buildings on Busch campus. John Milligan, a first-year in the School of Arts and Sciences, said that the club is sending letters to deans who work with student advocacy groups.
The support of University deans would legitimize Take Back the Tap's current project, and give them leverage when approaching the University's Residence Hall Association, Milligan said.
“We took a survey from over 200 participants on Busch campus. The biggest response was for SERC (Science and Engineering Resource Center) building. It's one of the biggest classroom buildings and it currently has no fill stations,” Milligan said. “We're targeting about half a dozen buildings for this project.”
Kenny said that many residence halls on Busch do not have water fountains, which leads students to unwittingly buy into water privatization.
Take Back the Tap is supported by the larger club Students for Environmental Action (SEA). Since joining SEA, Take Back the Tap has grown and is only one chapter of the national organization.
Steve Rudzinski, a junior in the School of Arts and Sciences, joined SEA in October 2015.
“At the first SEA meeting I went to, there were only about 20 people,” Rudzinski said. “There's a ton more now."
Take Back the Tap's concerns also include the industries related to water privatization — the plastics industry and the water companies themselves.
Dangerous carcinogenic chemicals, an agent that is directly involved with causing cancer, are used in plastics, Mulligan said. And mass incidences of cancer are common in areas surrounding large plastics factories.
“There have been studies of when water has been sitting in a disposable bottle for a long time, especially in a hot car or something, and there are detectable carcinogens in the water from the plastic,” Mulligan said.
The water companies themselves also tend to be exploitative of the communities where their plants are, Mulligan said. By buying only a small plot of land from which groundwater is accessible, a water company can cheaply profit off of an otherwise publicly available water supply.
These issues are part of the larger problem of bottled water, Kenny said.
“It's important to recognize that tap water isn't perfect, but it's our best bet,” Kenny said. “Investing money into public water infrastructure is what's gonna solve the problem. Buying bottled water isn't. It's just gonna make the issue worse.”