Illustration by Alexandra Najm.

To Consume or not to Consume: Tap Water on Campus

With uncertainty and unverified information spreading around campus, the Sustainability Committee decided to find out how safe our water is. Is it really safe to drink from our taps? Why is it environmentally important to limit single use plastics?

As a student body there are some things we can all agree on: the Abu Dhabi summer is too sweltering to function, ADNH staff are fab, D2 food has markedly improved over the years and the carpet outside the Baraha smells like wet dog. However, water — especially drinking water on campus — is a surprisingly contentious topic.
To investigate this polarization, the Student Government Sustainability Committee conducted a survey of 168 respondents this spring to gauge student perceptions on NYU Abu Dhabi’s tap water. We found that out of 168 respondents, 47 percent drink tap water daily and 32.7 percent never drink it. But why do some students fill their reusable bottles from the tap every day, while others buy plastic water bottles, only venturing to the tap for washing dishes and taking showers? Why is there such mistrust of tap water on campus?
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With uncertainty and unverified information spreading around campus, the Sustainability Committee decided to find out how safe our tap water is. Is it really safe to drink from our taps? We asked John O’Connor, Director of Environmental Health and Safety at NYUAD, to explain how water is transported from the city to our faucets and the quality control measures in place.
How is tap water transported to and treated on campus?
Water reaches campus via pipes connected to a water treatment plant in the city. When it arrives, it is treated a second time in concrete tanks under A4 to get rid of any microbes. SERCO samples and tests all of the water tanks monthly and regularly samples the water in residential and academic buildings to test for chemicals and biological matter. A third party also conducts chemical, biological and heavy metal tests through the Environmental Health and Safety department, and ADNH also conducts a round of regular tests on the water before using the water for all food preparation on campus.
In short, campus water undergoes multiple levels of treatment and tests, far exceeding the protocols required by the municipalities. It is routinely tested for quality and safety of consumption by multiple, independent parties.
What are the common concerns about tap water?
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Of those who do not regularly drink from the sink, the main reason given was concern about the water’s quality. One respondent stated: “I gave tap water to my plant and it almost died, imagine what it does to you in the long term.”
However, concerns around the quality of tap water are often compounded by its occasional discoloration. This occurs when water does not flow through the pipes for a period of time — whether from maintenance repairs when water is shut off or when you have not used the facet in a while. The milky discoloration does not indicate any safety problems. It only indicates that the water was sitting still for a period. If you experience this, running the tap for a few moments will make the water clear again.
Another common concern is that the tap water causes people to lose unusual amounts of hair when washing. If it makes your hair fall out, how can the tap water be safe for consumption? O’Connor explained that increased hair fall has nothing to do with drinking tap water, and is instead due to the increased hardness of the water when you wash your hair. Hardness is a measure of dissolved calcium and magnesium, both minerals that we regularly consume in milk, beans and nuts that have no adverse health impacts. If hair fall is a concern, shower filters can be purchased at the convenience store to help filter out these minerals.
Why is drinking tap water important?
Plastic waste is a growing crisis around the world, and in contrast to popular perception, recycling is not the solution. Plastic can only be remade a fixed number of times, making recycling less of a cycle and more of a downward spiral ending in the trash. This means that every plastic bottle of water you drink will eventually end up in the landfill, or worse, in the ocean. Plastic never completely dissolves once it’s in the ecosystem and only breaks down into smaller microplastics over hundreds of years. These microplastics adversely impact wildlife, reduce the ocean’s ability to sequester carbon dioxide and eventually make their way back up the food chain and into your diet if you consume certain animal based foods.
Drinking tap water is an easy and sustainable way to reduce plastic waste and protect yourself and the planet. With the multiple levels of treatment and tests, tap water on campus is a safeguarded vote for a more sustainable campus and a less polluted planet.
Killian Dumont, Michelle Hughes and Katie Glasgow-Palmer are contributing writers. Email them at
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