By Dylan Deprey
The yelping “woos” of a mega horn were accompanied by students shouting at the top of their lungs, and all handed out bottled water to classmates and neighbors. “You don’t want to drink that POISON… that lead,” yelled Alfonso Lowe, North Division High School student. “Have some clean water!”
The cases of bottled water stacked next to a Hunger Task Force Truck across the street from North Division High School could have been a scene straight out of Flint, MI.
North Division students and Youth Rising Up made it clear they wanted answers from MPS and the City during a youth led water quality rally and march on Wednesday, April 3.
“My nickname was waterbug because at football practice I used to love to drink water right after practice,” Lowe said. “Then I found out what was all in our water with the test results and I said, ‘My school has lead?!”
MPS released its water quality test results on Dec. 16, 2016. The results showed that there were no lead service lines connecting schools to City service lines. Ninety-four percent of the drinking fountains tested at levels below the EPA standard of 15ppb, but of the 3,000 fixtures, 183 had levels above EPA standards. These fountains were scheduled to be turned off.
North Division had 71 fixtures and was listed as number three of 34 schools with lead fixtures, which ranged from Elementary to High Schools.
Shaniya Liberty, Youth Rising Up leader and North Division student, explained during a press conference that students had been made aware of a filtered water fountain on the third floor of the building where students were not permitted.
Liberty pleaded for the community and her peers to sign a petition demanding MPS and the City to: provide filtered water on the first and second floor at North Division, retest service lines across the entire district, provide filtered water fountains for the entire district and to replace all lead lines in the community.
“We want to know what’s happening in our community, and we want to know now,” Liberty said.
MPS released a statement regarding North Division and its water quality.
“We have become aware of incorrect information circulating regarding water quality at North Division High School. There are no water issues at North Division. All drinking fountains have been tested, and those that did not meet EPS guidelines were disconnected. Water fountains now in use meet EPA guidelines.”
The statement further explained that the rumor of a special drinking fountain for teachers was false.
“The attached water bottle cooling station was installed in the Professional Development area at North Division (which is not part of the school) to give the high number of staff who use the space for professional development a way to fill their water bottles quickly.”
Students and community organizers were not sold on the level of transparency MPS and the City had taken regarding the lead levels in schools.
“Officials from MPS need to be held accountable, the Mayor needs to be held accountable, the Common Council president needs to be held accountable and the common council needs to be held accountable,” said King Rick, Black Panther leader. “Our children are dying and we can no longer tolerate it because either you change the dynamics of the community or we’ll do it ourselves.”
Freshwater for Life Action Coalition co-founder and spokesman, Robert Miranda, said the students marching for clean water was the proof that people were waking up and realizing their lives were in danger.
“The bottom line is if your water runs through lead pipes you are drinking poison water, if your fixtures in your schools, in your homes have lead you are drinking poison water,” Miranda said. “You have to understand it does not only affect your mind, it effects your overall health.”
FLAC has worked on educating and removal of the 70,000 lead lateral service lines buried beneath homes across the City.
“Lead is a toxin that needs to be eradicated from this community and it needs to be eradicated from our water,” Miranda said.