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Detroit’s public school students are experiencing a health predicament and here’s the solution: They can’t drink the water.

The water fountains are dry because drinking water has been shut off at all of Detroit’s 106 schools serving more than 40,000 students since officials discovered the water in 16 schools contained high levels of lead or copper.

And let’s just say it: This is a health emergency that needs to be addressed with a sense of urgency.

Detroit schools Superintendent Nikolai Vitti said that he’s turning off water at all schools “out of an abundance of caution” while more tests are performed.  Vitti said he believes the schools antiquated fixtures are the problem, not the city’s water source. Great Lakes Water Authority, the agency that provides water for Detroit, says its water is safe.

“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 a statement.

I grew up in Detroit, attended public schools and drank water from the fountains with no concerns and no problems. We take basic offerings in public schools for granted and it’s unconscionable that students, some who are living in high-crime neighborhoods, also have to worry about drinking school water that could be contaminated.

Drinking water with high levels of lead or copper could lead to kidney problems and high blood pressure, according to medical experts. Officials are testing the water in all of Detroit’s public schools and it could be a month of longer before the results are known.

The Detroit Water and Sewerage Department and the Great Lakes Water Authority blamed the school water problems on an “aging school infrastructure,” which is deeply troubling.

Here’s the problem: Vitti and school officials agree that the plumbing in Detroit’s schools are to blame for tainted water flowing through the pipes. So why did school administrators allow the situation to become so dire? How long have they known that pipes in Detroit’s schools were toxic? And why did it take so long to address this critical health problem?

Think about it: Parents send their children to school with the understanding that their kids will be safe. Now school officials are telling parents students will be fine as long as they don’t drink the water outside their classrooms.

This situation is completely unacceptable: Students should be required to focus solely on learning. In the meantime, students will drink bottled water from water coolers for the foreseeable future.

“I don’t think it’s realistic to think that we can just change the plumbing infrastructure in schools or play a whack-a-mole game of changing faucets or changing fixtures,” Vitti said.

Detroit’s school water issues comes as Flint, Michigan, a one-hour drive from Detroit, experienced contaminated tap water with high levels of lead in 2014 after officials switched from the Detroit system to the Flint River to save money. Some children were found to have elevated lead levels in their blood, leading to long-term health concerns.

Could Detroit’s public school students experience similar health problems?

Parents trust administrators to properly care for their children and, in this particular situation, Detroit’s public school officials are failing miserably.

What do you think?




Don’t Detroit’s Schoolkids Deserve Water They Can Drink?  was originally published on