As the season changes and Center City denizens seek respite from the rising temperatures, the fountains outside City Hall are a welcome reminder that Philadelphia parks can be pretty cool. Literally.
Dilworth Park is replete with more than a hundred individual mini fountains that create one of the most unique and interactive water displays in the city, and fountain season kicked off April 1. Thousands of Philadelphians walk through the Dilworth fountain each day, with many taking a break to dip their feet, hands and faces into the water.
As we reported in September, it’s not just the feet and hands and — gulp — faces of passers-by that splash in the fountains.
It’s the dogs.
And the babies with diapers.
And sometimes babies without diapers.
And the people drinking the water. (Note: Do not drink the water at Dilworth. Seriously. We tested it.)
Shortly after Labor Day, we decided to run the Dilworth water through an over-the-counter test kit we purchased at a home improvement store. Our test showed that the water coming out of the fountains contains more than 20 colonies per 100 mL of coliform bacteria, which can — but may not — include E. coli and other bacterias commonly found in feces.
“There is no E. coli in the water,” Paul Levy, CEO of the Center City District, told Billy Penn in September. “We have found some of the contaminants that come in water like that all within the safe limits. We’ve increased the chlorine levels and every professional test we’ve had has shown no sign of contamination.”
“That said,” Levy continued, “kids should not be drinking from the fountain.”
The old Dilworth Park signs didn’t tell people to not drink the water. The rules were clear: No running or rough play, kids must be supervised, no bathing, keep the fountains free of litter, food and pets, no glass and nobody under the influence can walk through the fountain. Also, per the park rules in general, no smoking.
There was no reference to not drinking the water on the signs. The water that tested positive for coliform bacteria.
Levy assured us in September that there is a sophisticated underground filtration system for the fountain, and they send out water for weekly off-site samples, assuring us at the time they would shut down the fountain if anything that would be deemed ‘contagious’ was found in those tests. He told us in the fall that our call led the Center City District to re-assess their language on the park’s signs.
“We were having up to 50 or 60 kids there when they were out of school, so we are definitely adding that in for next year, so you’ve highlighted an important issue,” he said, assuring us the CCD will increase staffing in the park during peak times this year, and have staffers be more direct with kids using unsafe practices.
After two days, that wasn’t the case.
On Monday and Tuesday of this week — a week in which temperatures reached 80 degrees and many students were out of school for spring break — there were no signs in the park. Not last year’s signs with park rules. Not a handwritten note on a trash can with the words scribbled “No Drink H2O.” Nothing.
Tuesday, park-goers were back to their usual antics, splashing their feet and hands and faces and diapered babies all over the park. Within a five-minute span we witnessed the following: A girl doing handstands so she could drink the water, a baby in a diaper sitting in the fountain next to her, the baby drinking the water, a small child drinking the water who then left to get a cup so he could collect the water to drink more of the water.
Reminder: Do. No. Drink. The. Water.
Following this, we asked officials…what gives? Several calls and emails from Billy Penn to officials at the CCD went unreturned Tuesday. Wednesday morning, after we specifically asked about the new updated signs at Dilworth, the new updated signs at Dilworth appeared.
Signs on either side of the main water installation were prominently placed Wednesday morning. There were no signs about not drinking the water on the small side of the water park.
Cassie Owens and Shannon Wink contributed to this story.