Just How Clean is Fair Lawn’s Water?

By Cassandra Michalakis and Hannah Chu

We’ve all heard the same thing: don’t drink water from the fountains or sinks because it’s “not clean” or “tastes funny.” So, on October 23rd, 2019, the Environmental Club of Fair Lawn High School decided to investigate this claim and see if the water quality at FLHS is truly safe. As Fair Lawn gets its water from numerous wells around town, we visited Well #2 (near the new soccer field) to conduct our test.

Most students know nothing about how their water makes it to sinks and drinking fountains around our school. Water is pumped from underground wells. The pipes travel 50 feet underground, and at the bottom, there is a mortar and pump that rotate using electricity. The rotation sends water up a pipe to the treatment plant. If the pipes are ever turned off, there's another one that transports runoff to flush out sitting water.

Once water is out of the ground, it is processed a couple of times to get rid of contaminants. One may not realize just how much pollution is in the water, including VOCs (volatile organic compounds) that can cause cancer if consumed in large amounts over time. Fortunately, they are easily removed by exposing the compounds in the water to the air. Air and water travel up the water tower, scrubbing the VOCs out of water, and transferring them to the air.

But isn’t this process just polluting the air? There is no need to worry, since lawmakers and scientists have determined that VOCs are much safer in air than in water. If you’ve taken biology, VOCs might sound familiar to you, along with PFCs, compounds which contain fluorine. PFCs are dangerous and harder to remove than VOCs, but chlorine gas does the trick. The amount of chlorine used is not harmful when consumed, but it does cause a slightly funny taste in drinking water. After this process, 100% of VOCs and 99% of PFCs are removed from Fair Lawn’s drinking water.

Once the Environmental Club was led into the room that connects all the pumps to Fair Lawn, we got to taste the water. The site has a sink that’s constantly running, so we knew we were getting the freshest water available and are happy to report that it tasted good! Shockingly, we learned that less than 1% of the water pumped is actually consumed as drinking water. Showers, cleaning (using washers and dryers), and other components are the main uses for water, despite the tedious process it goes through to make sure it is safe to drink.

Lastly, we were shown the control room that had all the pumps, which connect the water facility to different sectors of Fair Lawn. Our guide told us that 1,039 gallons of water per minute flow out of this facility! Currently, the tank behind Westmoreland Elementary School doesn’t work anymore because it’s too contaminated, but the BOE will be reviewing it in a month or so to reevaluate whether it should be cleaned out or abandoned.

Ultimately, the Environmental Club deems Fair Lawn’s water safe, clean, and high in quality. There’s no reason to be afraid of Fair Lawn’s water! 

Thumbnail Credit: Hannah Chu

Banner Credit: Hannah Chu

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