No drink­ing wa­ter in pub­lic schools due to lead, cop­per

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution - - NATION & WORLD - By Allyson Chiu

Less than a week be­fore classes are sched­uled to re­sume, Detroit’s city school dis­trict an­nounced that drink­ing wa­ter will be shut off for all its schools due to con­cerns over above-nor­mal lev­els of lead and cop­per.

The d eci­sion comes af­ter tests of var­i­ous wa­ter sources at 16 out of 24 schools showed el­e­vated amounts of the po­ten­tially toxic heavy met­als, ac­cord­ing to a state- ment from Detroit Pub­lic Schools Com­mu­nity Dis­trict su­per­in­ten­dent Niko­lai Vitti to lo­cal me­dia. With the goal of en­sur­ing the safety of stu­dents and em­ploy­ees, Vitti said he be­gan test­ing ev­ery­thing from sinks to wa­ter foun­tains at all 106 of the dis­trict’s schools last year, the Detroit Free Press re­ported.

“Al­though we have no ev­i­dence that there are 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 em­ploy­ees, I am turn­ing off all drink­ing wa­ter in our schools un­til a deeper and broader anal­y­sis can be con­ducted to de­ter­mine the long-term so­lu­tions for all schools,” Vitti said in the state­ment.

On Tues­day, wa­ter at the 16 schools was shut off and bot­tled wa­ter pro­vided un­til wa­ter cool­ers can ar­rive, Vitti said, ac­cord­ing to the Free Press. The to­tal num­ber of schools with con­tam­i­nated wa­ter in the dis­trict is now at 34 as 18 other schools al­ready had their wa­ter shut off.

The re­main­ing schools will have their wa­ter turned off this week, Vitti said, ac­cord­ing to Detroit News.

Mia Jones, whose child at­tends Cass Tech­ni­cal High School, one of the schools, told WJBK that the sit­u­a­tion should have been han­dled be­fore it got this bad.

“These are high-achiev­ing stu­dents, and not just be­cause this is Cass, all Detroit pub­lic schools,” Jones said. “They de­serve to be able to drink the wa­ter.”

Even small amounts of lead can cause se­ri­ous health prob­lems and chil­dren un­der the age of 6 are es­pe­cially vul­ner­a­ble, ac­cord­ing to the Mayo Clinic. Be­yond learn­ing and be­hav­ior prob­lems, lead ex­po­sure can im­pact phys­i­cal de­vel­op­ment, and in some cases, be fa­tal.

Drink­ing wa­ter with high lev­els of cop­per can also have ad­verse health conse- quences, in­clud­ing vom­it­ing, di­ar­rhea, stom­ach cramps and nau­sea. Cop­per toxic- ity has been as­so­ci­ated with liver and kid­ney fail­ure.

“I haven’t made this de­ci­sion based on the Flint situ- ation,” Vitti told WJBK. “I’m mak­ing this de­ci­sion be­cause I feel like it’s the best de­ci­sion for chil­dren.”

Wa­ter pro­fes­sion­als said the is­sue in Detroit schools isn’t the wa­ter per se, but ag­ing school in­fra­struc­ture, namely old plumb­ing. Lead and cop­per can en­ter drink­ing wa­ter when ser­vice pipes con­tain­ing the met­als cor­rode, ac­cord­ing to the En­vi­ron­men­tal Pro­tec­tion Agency.

In a joint state­ment, the Great Lakes Wa­ter Author­ity and the Detroit Wa­ter and Sew­er­age Depart­ment as­sured res­i­dents and cus­tomers in the area that “they are not af­fected by the lead and cop­per is­sues that the Detroit Pub­lic Schools Com­mu­nity Dis­trict (DPSCD) is ex­pe­ri­enc­ing.”

The state­ment touted the hourly test­ing of wa­ter at treat­ment plants and noted that wa­ter dis­trib­uted to any school dis­trict build­ing does not go through “lead ser­vice lines.”

“The drink­ing wa­ter is of un­ques­tion­able qual­ity,” the state­ment said.

JOSHUA LOTT / THE NEW YORK TIMES

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