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Nearly 50,000 Detroit Students Won’t Be Able to Drink Their School’s Water Due to Lead and Copper

After discovering traces of lead and copper in drinking water at 16 schools, officials decided to shut down drinking water at all the schools in Detroit Public School District.

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It’s officially back-to-school season but an estimated 47,000 students in Detroit will be forced to begin school without access to their school’s drinking water after Detroit’s Public School District tested the drinking water of 24 schools and found that 16 had high levels of copper and lead. This discovery caused officials to shut off the drinking water in 106 public schools in the district while they can test the remaining schools’ drinking water supply.

In a statement, Superintendent Nikolai Vitti explained that this does not mean that all the schools have contaminated water. Rather, to ensure the safety of the students, the district has decided to play it safe for now until they are certain water is safe for kids to drink.

“Although we have no evidence that there are elevated levels of copper or lead in our other schools where we are awaiting test results,” Vitti said. “[O]ut 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.”

Water with high levels of lead or copper can pose a serious health risk for whoever drinks it, including nausea, vomiting, stomach cramps, and diarrhea. Fortunately, for now, there does not seem to be any evidence that Detroit’s water system has been contaminated by copper or lead, as the World Health Organization reports that lead poisoning is “particularly harmful to young children,” as it can cause “developmental and behavioral delays in children.”

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So how is the district planning to provide drinking water for students while it figures out the extent of the problem? For now, bottled water seems to be the answer, as Vitti told the Associated Press that the district is planning to spend $200,000 on water bottles and coolers for the next two months. After that, if necessary, the district will likely seek out bids for a long-term contract.