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Quality of school water

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08/23/2016 - Concerns over student health and safety in the wake of the Flint water crisis have spurred many local school districts to step up efforts to ensure their water is free of excessive lead and copper contamination, but the lack of meaningful action at the state and federal levels may give parents and officials a false sense of security.

Of the hundreds of school buildings in Oakland County, only 31 schools are required to conduct water sampling for lead and copper levels. Under federal law, schools that receive water from a public water system, such as the Great Lakes Water Authority (formerly the Detroit Water and Sewerage Department) or municipal water systems, such as those in areas of Rochester and Waterford, aren't required to conduct water quality testing. Those requirements are mandated only for schools that receive water from their own private well systems, which include several schools in Highland Township, White Lake, Clarkston and other locations in western and northern Oakland County. That means water quality testing conducted at school districts in the Birmingham/Bloomfield and Rochester areas do so on a voluntary basis, and at their own expense.

Downtown Publications this summer contacted more than 30 public and private school districts throughout Oakland County to determine whether they conduct water testing for lead and copper, with responses from 16 districts. Of those who responded, 12 districts test at least a portion of their drinking fountains and sinks for lead or copper levels, with three in the process of testing. Of those that have already tested water, seven found at least one fixture in the district that tested higher than the federal action level for lead or copper.

Districts surveyed that found elevated levels of lead or copper included Berkley Schools; Farmington Public Schools; Huron Valley Schools; Rochester Community Schools; South Lyon Schools; Southfield Schools and the Troy School District. Each of the districts conducted additional testing when elevated levels were found, and either took the water fixture out of service permanently or until the issue was resolved.

Districts that didn't discover lead or copper levels above the limit set by the federal Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) may still have some presence of lead or copper. For instance, records provided by the Bloomfield Hills Schools district showed at least some presence of lead or copper at 11 of the 46 drinking fountains or sinks most recently sampled at the district.

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