Pure water vending machines may not be so pure
May 21, 1996
Web posted at: 1:30 a.m. EDT
From Correspondent Dan Rutz
TUCSON, Arizona (CNN) -- Vending machines that dispense drinking water are becoming more popular among people distrustful of tap water. They're convenient -- bring your own container, put in your money and take home a bottle of crystal clear pure water.
That was the idea anyway, but a recent University of Arizona study found bacteria in close to one out of four of the supermarket machines tested.
"A lot of times these vending machines are out in the open," says Charles Gerba of the University of Arizona. "Birds land there, children play with the nozzles."
The researchers found bacteria like e-coli in the machines, and say the water was probably pure before it reaches the machine nozzle.
They suspect small children splashing in the drain pools -- or rubbing dirty hands on the nozzle -- bring on the germs that contaminate the water as it flows out. And even if the water is clean when it comes out of the nozzle, some buyers defeat the purpose by carrying it home in bacteria-laden containers.
None of the bugs picked up from the vending machines causes dangerous infections in humans. But some strains can bring on diarrhea or other illness in those with weakened immune systems.
State and local authorities are supposed to regulate water vending machines. But the Arizona researchers say that it really boils down to "buyer beware."
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