Bacteria Alert Over Children’s Dirty Water Bottles

Dirty water bottles used by children are a breeding ground for bugs and harmful bacteria, public health experts warned last night. Welsh schoolchildren are piloting a scheme to wash bottles each day after a study found high levels of bacteria in bottles and water machines at three schools.

A new generation of schoolchildren often enjoy the chance to sip water to keep them hydrated in class. But the study raises concerns about water bottles which are left in warm classroom for long periods at a time and sometimes not washed thoroughly.

Teachers said they were concerned that bacteria could spread disease – minor stomach bugs can spread in a class of pupils.

The study at Aberaeron Comprehensive, Ysgol Bro Brynach and Lamphey Primary School in Pembrokeshire found high levels of coliforms, which can cause minor tummy bugs, and other bacteria which can cause more serious illness in people who are already ill. Tests for E.coli were negative.

Doctors, while stressing the need for cleanliness, said the benefits of drinking enough water outweighed any health risk. But they said it was important bottles were washed daily with warm soapy water to eliminate harmful germs – and conceded this may not always happen.

Cardiff University public health lecturer Dr Meirion Evans and British Medical communicable disease expert Dr Richard Jarvis said the biggest health risk was probably from children passing on cold and tummy bug viruses from sharing bottles.

“Levels of coliforms are measured to test tap water. It would not be OK to find coliforms in tap water but their presence in water bottles does not mean someone will get ill although they might get a minor tummy upset,” Dr Jarvis said.

“There is a school of thought that suggests children should encounter these things so they develop an immune response and ensure their defences are up to scratch. Parents should not be worried by this report. “I would simply wash bottles with washing-up liquid and warm water each day.”

Dr Evans agreed, saying, “The health benefits of drinking water through the school day outweigh any risks. It’s about common sense and recognising that bottles can get contaminated at home and school and it is a good idea to wash them properly. Screw tops and sports water bottles should be washed with a brush.”

The study by Drpur Pure Water was carried out with help from environmental health staff at Pembrokeshire County Council and local schools. Company director Rebecca Bird said the study was done to find out why pupils may not be drinking enough water.

They discovered schools were worried about hygiene and after testing for bacteria helped to develop the bottle washing routine which is now being piloted at Lamphey Primary School.

Ms Bird said, “This is not scaremongering. Following two years of research into hydration we came across common queries about how to ensure cleaning bottles was not putting an extra work load on staff. Primary schools also wanted children to be involved in cleaning their own bottles as part of life skills education.”

The St Clear’s-based firm found an environmentally friendly cleaning product that could be used by children with the most sensitive skin at Lamphey and elsewhere. If bottles are sent home for cleaning they may not come back the next day, may stay in bags or not get cleaned,” Ms Bird said. “It is better if bottles can be cleaned in school.”

All but the youngest pupils at Lamphey now soak their bottles in special cleaning solution for 30 seconds at the end of each day.

A Pembrokeshire County Council spokesman said the scheme had gone well and the council might now consider using it in other schools.