From complaints of hair turning orange to an overall dislike for the "metallic" after-taste, some students wonder if the water on Michigan State University's campus is safe to use.
Upon moving to campus, some students might discover that the water conditions differ greatly from that of their home communities.
Agribusiness management sophomore Lilley Koby lived in Hubbard Hall for transitional housing and said the water smelled metallic and didn’t seem safe to drink.
“I would take showers and I would get out of the shower and I would have like red scum on my legs from the amount of metallic, iron rust whatever was in the pipes,” Koby said. “It was disgusting.”
Koby said she dyed her hair blonde and after one week of using campus water, her hair was turning red.
“That is disheartening to get into your dorm and say, ‘Okay, this is my new home but the water is orange and smells awful,’” Koby said. “That doesn’t seem fair for students.”
IPF Communications and Learning Manager Fred Woodhams is aware of these complaints from students but wants them to know that the water on campus is in fact safe.
“We do from time to time get complaints about the taste of the water. There is a high mineral content in MSU water that is naturally occurring,” Woodhams said. “It’s important to note that the water provided on campus is safe and clean to drink. It’s tested regularly, and it meets or exceeds all state and federal water quality standards.
Woodhams said that he and the IPF department recognize that students at MSU come from all parts of Michigan and all different parts of the country, meaning they come from areas that may condition their water to a different standard than MSU does.
In 2020, MSU launched a new water plant that takes iron and other minerals out of the water in order to improve the taste and appearance.
“It has reduced the amount of discoloration events that have occurred, it helps get that iron in the water and that contributes to the taste that many students did not find palatable,” Woodhams said.
However, this new water plant is only used in the North Campus water system, meaning it excludes Brody Neighborhood, 1855 Place and the Kellogg Center. Woodhams said this is because Brody Neighborhood doesn’t receive water from the MSU water system but rather from the East Lansing Meridian Township Water system, which conditions the water differently from MSU.
Manager of East Lansing Meridian and Sewer Authority, Joel Martinez, said the water they supply to Brody Neighborhood is just as filtered as the MSU system, if not more, since their water system removes more than just iron, but calcium and magnesium as well.
“We’re a more complete treatment system. We are actually softening the water as well,” Martinez said. “We’re essentially a step beyond what Michigan State’s filtration plant does.”
When it comes to the taste of the water, many students aren’t attuned to the metallic taste many have said the water has, leading many to resort to plastic water bottles as their primary drinking source.
Plastic water bottle sales average 4,587 bottles daily across all Sparty's Market locations, MSU culinary services spokesperson Cheryl Berry said.
To reduce the number of students using plastic water bottles, Woodhams said the IPF has installed more than 200 filtered water bottle stations across campus so that students and staff can fill up reusable water bottles with freshly filtered water.
However, according to Koby, the nearest filtered water station in her dorm — Hubbard Hall — is on the first floor. Because Hubbard Hall has thirteen floors, Koby said this inconvenience would sometimes lead to her not drinking enough water.
For students who are worried about the water impacting their hair color or skin health, Woodhams said he recommends students install a filtered shower head for their space to filter out the minerals in the water.
“When people are showering, it may be much harder water than they’re used to in their home communities,” Woodhams said.
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Finance freshman Luke Preston, who lives in Hubbard Hall, said he installed one of these filtration heads into his shower because he noticed the effects the minerals had on his skin and hair.
"We use that for washing (our) face and the shower and sometimes even brushing (our) teeth because we don’t really know how good the water is from out of the sink,” Preston said.
But Martinez said MSU's water is "not unsafe in any way," even if the taste is a little unpleasant.
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