Children everywhere are curious by nature. Mine are no exception. The difference is that they live deep within an urban setting where concrete and burnt out houses are the view from their bedrooms. No one goes out at night and they’ve never seen the moon in a starry sky. Opening their minds to the vast world outside of their neighborhood has been a challenge but these children are becoming aware that other places have their own problems, some very big ones. The neighboring urban city to the north has really given them pause for a second look at one of our vital resources: water. The city? Flint, Michigan. Suddenly our children worried about a substance they had never seen and wondered if it might affect them as well. Where did this lead come from? How did it get into the water and what can be done about it? Many types of questions rose from it being a racial issue to that of political poisoning or a total lack of human responsibility. They were used to hearing about lead paint in old homes but now it was affecting the very water they needed to live and had previously taken for granted. One thing we knew we could do was collect bottled water and somehow find a way to get it to the people of Flint. Understand that our children are Title I and that means highest poverty. Many don’t get enough to eat so finding ways to bring water in was a creative issue. Yet we managed to amass enough cases, gallons, and single bottles to fill my minivan. We joked that I would not die from a car accident if I was hit but I might drown! I promised to save the water first. We found a small church right in the middle of the affected area. Its name was interesting: Living Waters. Appropriate, we decided, and contacted the pastor of the church to be our distributor. We had been testing river water for several years using GLOBE protocols. We test both the Rouge River and the Detroit River on a regular basis for science fair projects and for the Rouge Education Project. We learned of the vital necessity of keeping tabs on the rivers, especially since our drinking water came from these sources. We have water quality test kits and volunteered to test the church water and a few of the homes nearby. They were anxious to hear from us what the results would be. They had been given water filtration pitchers from the city/state and told this would take care of the problem. So we decided to test this out. I bought the same brand filtration systems plus a couple of others that also promised to remove lead from water. We checked them all before and after. None of them even took out the phosphates in the water, let alone the lead. It was very difficult to share this with those young families who had to use that water every day. Later the same year, we tested the school water and found that the phosphates level was so high that we had no numbers on our charts to identify it. Our administrator had been told the water was checked and declared safe. We took our tests results down and students showed her. The next day, all our water fountains were disconnected and we had to bring in tiny sealed water cups for the children. They have been drinking those for about a year now. This year, we were able to obtain lead test kits that are accurate for drinking water and do not require me to deliver samples to the local university for testing. We continued our study of our own water, now that the city we live in has problems. We discovered that if the water has high levels of phosphates, it will test positive for lead. So far, this has remained an accurate assessment. As an educator who cares deeply about her students, I can’t begin to tell you what it feels like when a student tests her home water and finds lead. They already know that lead in their system will have negative effects two generations ahead. One of my best students was so devastated when she read the results. Kyan looked at me and asked: “What do I do now?” I cried myself to sleep that night. We are looking for answers. We know that certain plants can remove lead from soils. We also know that simple water filtration kits do not remove lead or most other contaminants from the water. We have seen that for ourselves. We also found that reverse osmosis systems installed in homes run about 1500 to 3000 dollars. None of us has that kind of money. We have turned to bottled water for most of our needs but we have also started to test those as well for lead. We have found one major supplier that has tested for lead so far. Very disconcerting! Yet we have hope. This summer I have been accepted for a research project where I personally can design a field study and develop lesson plans around it. I hope to find something that will be effective in removing this problem. At the very least, students will learn how to problem solve and perhaps develop a reasonable approach to the elimination of water contamination for urban cities. Maybe it’s not a better mousetrap we need but a better filtration system for water.
by Isabel Escobar
When I took this picture of the Jordan River, I was on the Jordanian side. People were getting baptized on the Israeli side. The Jordan River is one of the holiest bodies of water in the world, and a vital source of water to both Jordan and Israel (two countries that lack water), but yet, it is one of the most polluted in the world.