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Detroit schools to use bottled water due to lead, copper concerns

'Out of an abundance of caution" drinking water on all Detroit Public Schools campuses is being shut down until further notice, the superintendent said.
by Dennis Romero /

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Detroit public school students will start the year next week with no access to water fountains because of contamination concerns, officials said Wednesday.

Detroit Public Schools Community District Superintendent Nikolai P. Vitti sent a letter to staff to announce that he was ordering drinking fountains at all 106 district campuses turned off after tests found 16 schools with "higher than acceptable" levels of copper or lead in their tap water.

Ivy Bailey, president of the Detroit Federation of Teachers, says she's happy the district has been proactive about the problem.

"I have to give them kudos for being transparent," she said. "The timeline is awful, but let's just deal with it. I hope that we move quickly to get these water fountains repaired."

According to a statement from Vitti, 10 schools were already using a filtration system as a result of water quality issues. Eight additional campuses had ongoing issues since 2016, bringing the total number of campuses verified to have water quality problems to 34, Vitti said.

"Although we have no evidence that there are elevated levels of copper or lead in our other schools (over 50) 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.

Bailey of the teachers' union said she was told the problem wasn't systemic but rather had to do with older plumbing near the foutains' bubblers, or drinking ends. "It's not the pipes in the buildings," she said.

Water bottles and, as soon as possible, water coolers will be used until the problem could be fixed, Vitti said. A timeline wasn't immediately given.

The shut down of water fountains doesn't apply to charter schools, but Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan, intends to initiate "the same level of" water quality testing at those campuses, Vitta said.

Parents were being informed about the situation via robo calls, the superintendent said.

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