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Two-Thirds of Detroit Public Schools Have High Levels of Lead, Copper In Water: Report

More than half of all Detroit Public Schools appear to have elevated levels of lead or copper in their drinking water, which has forced much of the district to change to bottled water amid concerns about health risks for students. 

The Detroit Public Schools Community District released an updated report this week, announcing that 57 of its 86 schools tested positive for elevated levels of copper or lead. That number may rise as the district continues to await additional water testing results.

As the test results have come in, and schools with high levels of copper or lead were identified, the district has immediately turned off drinking water at those facilities and provided the schools with bottled water until water coolers can be installed.

“Moving forward we will continue to use water coolers districtwide and are actively working through the bid processes to make a recommendation to the board for the use of hydration stations. This will occur within the next couple of weeks,” the report states. “The hydration stations would be installed in all schools by beginning of next school year districtwide and replace the need for water coolers. A hydration station would be placed in a school for every 100 students, in addition to one in the kitchen, faculty lounge, and gym. Additional stations would be installed after the first year of implementation if consistent access is a challenge based on the configuration of the school’s building.”

The water station system will cost the district $2 million.

School officials suggest that shrinking enrollment in the school district, linked to shrinking population in Detroit, has resulted in lower water usage in the schools, which can cause lead and copper to build up in the aging pipes. School officials say they are examining potential long-term solutions.

Lead Exposure Health Concerns

Lead poisoning among children has been a serious health concern nationwide for decades, as it is known to increase the risk of nervous system injury, brain damage, seizures or convulsions, growth or mental retardation, coma and even death. Childhood lead poisoning is considered the most preventable environmental disease among young children.

Prior to the nearby Flint water crisis, one of the more common causes of of lead poisoning was lead-based paint, which was banned in the United States in 1978 due to the risk of severe and permanent brain damage and developmental problems, particularly in children. However, a number of older homes still contain the toxic paint on the walls, and if it flakes or peals off, young children could ingest the paint chips or breathe dust that comes from the paint, resulting in lead poisoning.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimate that 535,000 children ages 1-5, or about 2.6% of such children in the U.S., have levels of lead in their blood that place them at risk for adverse health effects. To come up with that number, the CDC analyzed data from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey from the years 1999 to 2002, and 2007 through 2010.

The majority of those children are poor and live in older urban areas, mainly in the inner city. Most are minorities, meaning such exposures add to numerous problems already plaguing inner city black and Latino youths, such as poverty, high crime and poor schools.

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