Fri. Jun 2nd, 2023
Drink carefully.
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Students returning to school in Detroit next week will find their water fountains completely shut down amid concerns about elevated lead and copper levels — something federal lawmakers say is part of a “disturbing and unacceptable” nationwide problem.

The decision to shut off Detroit’s drinking water was based on an initial round of testing the school district conducted in its 106 schools earlier this year. The results of just 24 schools so far came to light with 16 water sources contaminated with excessive levels of lead, copper or both. For example, tests at the district’s Academy of the Americas elementary school found a kitchen and drinking faucet in a basement cafeteria with lead levels of 182 micrograms per liter (ug/L) and 154 µg/L, respectively. That’s more than ten times the Environmental Protection Agency’s recommended limit of 15 µg/L. Full test results can be found here.

Nikolai Vitti, Superintendent of the Detroit Public Schools Community District (DPSCD), announced the closure Wednesday. In a statement to the Detroit Free Pressexplained Vitti:

While we have no evidence of elevated levels of copper or lead in our other schools where we are awaiting test results, out of an abundance of caution and concern for the safety of our students and staff, I exclude all drinking water in our schools until a deeper and broader analysis can be performed to determine the long-term solutions for all schools.

In a joint statement, the Great Lakes Water Authority (GLWA) and the Detroit Water and Sewerage Department (DWSD) were quick to point out that the contamination is not due to a problem with the region’s water system. Rather, the couple blamed pollution on outdated plumbing in the schools.

“The water in GLWA’s treatment plants is tested every hour and DWSD has no lead service lines connected to a DPSCD building. The drinking water is of indisputable quality,” the statement said.

In an interview with The New York Times, Vitti acknowledged the dire state of the school district’s infrastructure, pointing to a review last year that showed it would cost about half a billion dollars to bring the school buildings up to standard. Vitti, who took on the role of superintendent in May 2017, blamed the state-appointed emergency managers who monitored the school facilities from 2009 to 2016. Vitti said they hadn’t invested in the upkeep of the school, which sent the message to students, parents and employees “that we really don’t care about public education in Detroit.”

Detroit is far from the only school district potentially sending that message. In July, the Government Accountability Office released a report finding that as many as 43 percent of school districts across the country tested for lead in their drinking water in 2016 and 2017. The report noted that only seven states and the District of Columbia require such testing. Those states are: California, Illinois, Maryland, Minnesota, New Jersey, New York, and Virginia.

Of those who tested, 37 percent found elevated lead levels in 2016 and 2017, the GAO found. And the problem has not gone away. This month, state-mandated tests in Maryland in several counties have revealed high levels of lead from school faucets. In those cases, officials cut off individual water wells, rather than all the drinking water from the schools.

As the GAO report noted, lead exposure in children leading to elevated blood levels has been linked to anemia, kidney and brain damage, learning disabilities and impaired growth. While the most common source of lead exposure for young children is still paint chips and dust in aging buildings and homes, water sources are also a concern.

Following the publication of the GAO’s report, a group of Congressional Democrats released a fiery response calling for federal action. “The findings in this report are disturbing and unacceptable,” they said in a joint statement. “No child should be at risk of exposure to toxic lead simply by drinking water at school.”

By akfire1

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