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Should You Drink from Roadside Springs?

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Penn State College of Agricultural Sciences

You’re driving through a wooded, rural area on a hot summer day and happen upon a stone structure built into a roadside slope, with a steady stream of clear, cool water cascading out of a pipe. Other motorists have pulled over with plastic jugs, filling the containers with apparently refreshing drinking water to take home.

You’re tempted to stop and take a swig to quench your thirst. But should you?

Maybe not, according to a survey of roadside springs in Pennsylvania led by water resources extension educators James Clark and Diane Oleson.

In 2013, Clark and Oleson collected water samples from thirty-five of these water supplies, most of which were located within state highway rights-of-way in nineteen counties throughout Pennsylvania. The college’s Agricultural Analytical Services Laboratory analyzed each sample for twenty common inorganic and microbiological water-quality parameters.

The results were troubling: overall, 97 percent of the roadside springs failed to meet at least one EPA drinking water standard. The most common health-related pollutants were coliform bacteria, E. coli bacteria, and lead.

The Penn State Extension Water Resources team hopes to secure funding to test more roadside springs across the state. In the meantime, if you drink water from one of these springs, Clark and Oleson recommend that you first have it tested by a state-accredited water-testing laboratory.

Hannah Lane