Nikolai Vitti, Detroit Public Schools superintendent, said he expected the closure of water fountains in all 106 schools to go smoothly because the district — Michigan’s largest — had already turned off the taps in several dozen schools. The coolers and bottled water will cost $200,000 over two months.
Detroit is not the only district to deal with contaminated water. In recent weeks, some Maryland school districts have found lead in their water fountains and closed them off to students. Fountains at most schools in the 80,000-student Baltimore City district have been shut off for more than a decade.
Last year, LeeAndria Hardison saw brown-colored water coming from fountains at the Detroit school attended by her teenage son.
“I’ve been sending water to school every day with his name on it — five bottles of water in a cooling pack,” said Hardison, 39. “He was only allowed to drink that water.”
Water testing in Detroit schools should have started years ago because of aging pipes, said Ricky Rice, 61, who has a grandson in sixth grade and another grandchild beginning kindergarten.
“In the poorer neighborhoods, in the black neighborhoods, we always have a problem with issues of environment,” Rice said. “Look at the water up in Flint. Now, look at the water here. They should have known it was going to be a problem with this old infrastructure.”
While water companies are required to check for lead, they focus on a sample of homes, which does not guarantee that all homes or buildings are lead-free. The Great Lakes Water Authority and the Detroit Water and Sewerage Department, which distribute Detroit’s water, said that it meets federal and state standards and that the school district’s problems are caused by aging plumbing.
Vitti said that he’s in no rush to turn the tap back on and that a long-term solution must first be found.
Kids at the schools that already had coolers drank more than they had from the fountains, according to their principals.
“With the water coming from the water coolers, they just trust [the bottled water] more and are drinking it more,” Vitti said.