US cities are now ‘third world’
AGEING and defunct infrastructure in some of America's cities has lead to a lack of basic services, leaving residents in what some have described as "third world" conditions.
About 50,000 Detroit public school students across 106 schools will start the school year this week without access to flowing drinking water from taps and bubblers after the discovery of elevated levels of lead or copper in the water supply.
It is the latest setback in the state of Michigan which is already dealing with the consequences of contaminated tap water in Flint and other communities.
With the taps turned off, Detroit students and staff will be relying on bottled water that will cost about US$200,000 over two months, after which the district will probably seek bids for a longer-term contract, said Detroit Public Schools Superintendent Nikolai Vitti.
Given the problems in other parts of the state, some students have long avoided the public water fountains.
"There has been an undertone of not trusting the water to begin with," Mr Vitti told The Associated Press.
The old plumbing and water infrastructure is decaying, becoming dangerous and local cash-strapped governments are struggling to find a solution.
Detroit is not the first major school district to switch to bottled water. The 49,000 student district in Portland, Oregon, turned off its fixtures in 2016 after a scandal over high levels of lead in the water at almost every school - a problem that took two years to fix.
Water at most schools in the 80,000-student Baltimore districts have been shut off for more than a decade.
Last year, Detroit mother LeeAndria Hardison, 39, saw brown water coming from fountains at the 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," she said. "He was only allowed to drink that water."
The entities that provide and distribute Detroit's drinking water - the Great Lakes Water Authority and the Detroit Water and Sewerage Department - said it meets and surpasses federal and state standards, and the district's problems are due to ageing plumbing.
'THIRD WORLD' AMERICA
In response to a Reuters story about the water crisis in Detroit, one US resident whose Twitter profile describes her as living in Nashville, expressed dismay at her country.
"WTF is wrong with country? We give tax cuts to the rich that explode the deficit & in Detroit we have kids in schools with no water. We are becoming a third world country. The greed is mind boggling," she wrote on Twitter.
She is far from the only one to make the third world comparison.
Actor Alyssa Milano shared a Washington Post story about Detroit schools turning off their potentially dangerous water and was met with comments of equal anger from social media users.
"Corrupt and incompetent Democratic leadership for generations has turned the city of Detroit into a third world sh**hole," replied a man from Ohio.
In Flint, Michigan, residents have been dealing with the issue of toxic water for more than four years.
The consequences of the problem are laid bare in a new book by journalist Anna Clark titled The Poisoned City: Flint's Water and the American Urban Tragedy.
"America is built on lead. Networks of ageing pipes made from the bluish-grey metal bring water into millions of US homes," she wrote. "But when lead, a poison to the nervous system, gets into drinking water - as happened in Flint, Michigan - the heavy metal can cause irreparable harm."
In the US, only eight states require lead-in-water testing in schools and Michigan is not among them.
Stephanie Chang, a Detroit Democrat, said the inaction is disappointing given the serious health consequences of being exposed to lead. "It only makes sense to test water on a regular basis in our schools and in childcare centres and in other places where there are vulnerable populations," she said.
- With AP