WQP Managing Editor Amy McIntosh discusses lead in Detroit Public Schools drinking water
As I write this, Labor Day has just ended, fall is approaching and kids across the country are going back to school. For many students, an unexpected item has landed in their backpacks among the brand new pencils and notebooks: bottled water.
Detroit made headlines in recent weeks as the Detroit Public Schools Community District decided to shut off drinking water at all of its 106 schools due to high levels of lead and copper reported at 16 schools. Flint (Mich.) Community Schools have had their taps turned off since 2015. Both districts will provide bottled water to students.
Around the same time, schools in Florida, Indiana and Maryland also were reporting elevated lead levels near the first week of school, though no district announced a water shutoff as drastic as Detroit’s.
As students return to school, many Michigan parents are skeptical about the districts’ abilities to provide enough bottled water for all students—50,000 in Detroit and 4,500 in Flint—and are sending them to school with their own bottled water. In Flint last year, parents were told to not give their children water bottles because of potential disruption, according to a parent quoted in The Detroit News.
The problem in Detroit seems to have stemmed from the schools’ drinking fountains, not the distribution piping, according to The Guardian. These older drinking fountains contain both lead and copper, which leach into the drinking water.
According to The Detroit News, the Detroit school district released a report in June that identified the need for repairs. Specifically, the report cited nearly $30 million in necessary plumbing repairs or replacements; in five years that cost is expected to be $82 million. With historic underfunding in the Detroit public school district, it is unclear when any of these repairs or replacements will be made.
Children are particularly vulnerable to the detrimental health effects of lead, which is why the lead in schools epidemic is so troubling. Directing funding to upgrade the infrastructure and fixtures in these schools should be a top priority to protect the wellbeing of the children who walk the halls every day.