For Detroit Students, Water Fountains are Health Hazards
By Sierra Searcy
Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer has created an office for clean water, housed within the newly formed Department of Environment, Great Lakes and Energy, to investigate complaints about water quality. "Right now, communities across our state don't trust the water coming out of their taps, and there is a real lack of trust in state government," Whitmer said. Her executive order comes at a time when many Michiganders lack access to clean water—and the resources to fix the problem.
Just ask students in Detroit. For the last six months, the nearly 50,000 students enrolled in Detroit Public Schools (DPS) have not been able to use the drinking fountains.
In August, Superintendent Nikolai Vitti tested the water quality at 86 DPS schools. There is no law requiring schools to test their water, but Vitti had good cause for concern. At 57 of the schools tested, results showed elevated levels of lead and copper. Vitti ordered all drinking water to be shut off at every school in the district.
A sign in the women's restroom at Southeastern High School. Sierra Searcy
Lead is rarely found naturally in lakes, rivers or wells. It tends to enter drinking water through the corrosion of aging pipes, solder and faucets. Copper may enter into drinking water either by directly contaminating well water or through the corrosion of copper pipes. The presence of both lead and copper in drinking water at DPS schools is the result of corrosion.
"It's all about the infrastructure. In DPS schools, they didn't take care of the infrastructure. They didn't do what they were supposed to do," said a Detroit Water and Sewer company employee who wished to remain anonymous. "They have not put money into keeping up the pipes."
The tests results have left students worried. "When they told us the water was being shut off because it had lead and copper in it, they didn't give us any information on how the contaminated water affects us, so I looked it up on my own," said Southeastern High School freshman Isiah Pearl. "I found out drinking water with lead and copper in it makes you dumber."
In children, exposure to even low levels of lead has been linked to learning disabilities, lower IQ, hyperactivity, stunted growth, impaired hearing and anemia. For this reason, the federal government banned lead-based paint in 1978 and began to phase out the use of lead gasoline in 1974. Although water with lead is considered safe for washing hands, some students remain concerned. "They say we can wash our hands, but if we can't drink it, I don't understand how it doesn't affect our outside body," said Joi Morgan, a senior at Southeastern High School.
Southeastern math teacher Kiarra Ambrose quenches her thirst at a water cooler. Sierra Searcy
To address the fountain shutoff, schools have provided portable water coolers, one for every 100 students. Southeastern has only three water cooler across three floors to serve its 300 students and staff, many of whom don't have time to reach a water cooler between classes.
"Getting to class on time is already hard, so stopping to get water most of the time means going out of my way and being late," said Southeastern freshman Christopher Robbins. "The building's old. It's always so hot, so we get thirsty easily. But they are so strict here. We can't be late to class, or we will get in trouble."
Pearl shared Robbins' frustration. "In middle school, kids would get sick [with dehydration] because we didn't have any water fountains," he said. "The school was basically falling apart."
A cafeteria staff member who wished to remain anonymous said that water contamination has also made it more difficult to make lunch. Instead of going to the faucet, the kitchen staff must use bottled water. "It has made my job harder, but we have to do what we have to do to feed these babies," the staff member said of the students. "We don't want them to get sick."
The lack of water is another setback for a district that has been beset by financial problems for more than a decade. Already facing shortages of books, supplies and teachers, many students in the largely black, working-class school district are disappointed about the water contamination, but not surprised. "We just saw it as another problem. I was just like, 'Oh, now the water doesn't work.'" said Southeastern senior Steffon Horton. "I haven't thought too much about it."
Southeastern math teacher Kiarra Ambrose uses a water cooler. Sierra Searcy
Lead contamination is no stranger to black communities. Studies show that black children are more likely to be exposed to lead than white children, a fact affirmed by the experience of teachers and students in Detroit. "I haven't heard about schools in Farmington or Southfield [wealthier and whiter communities near Detroit] with this problem," said Southeastern English and Language Arts teacher Jacqueline Robinson.
"I feel like we would have more resources if we were in a suburban community," Morgan said. "They feel like they can give us this little water station and we will be okay because they think we don't want to come to school anyway, but that's not the case."
Lacking funding to address the water crisis, Superintendent Vitti raised $2.4 million in donations from philanthropies to pay for filters that will remove lead and copper from water from drinking fountains. The district is in the processing of installing the filters at every DPS school, though the filters will need to be replaced regularly. The only permanent fix is to replace the aging pipes.
Water contamination in Detroit schools is indicative of larger infrastructure issues across the state. The American Society of Civil Engineers gave Michigan's schools a D+ on its most recent infrastructure report card, as many districts are "utilizing facilities built in the 1950s and 1960s following the Baby Boom, in the condition they were originally constructed." Michigan's drinking water infrastructure received a D in the same report, which noted the state would need to spend nearly $14 billion to bring its drinking water into compliance with the Safe Drinking Water Act.
In his state of the union address this week, President Trump called for an infrastructure overhaul. Democrats in Congress are willing to work with Trump on an infrastructure package this year. As part of that effort, there are steps that federal lawmakers could take to improve drinking water as part of a larger push on infrastructure, such as establishing a federal Water Infrastructure Trust Fund to help finance local improvements and repairs in cities like Detroit.
For now, students and staff will continue pushing for a solution. "We won't stop talking and using our voices until we are heard," Robbins said. "We need a change. We demand a change, and I won't give up until that change happens."
Reposted with permission from our media associate Nexus Media.
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Since even moderate-intensity workouts offer a slew of benefits, walking is a good choice for people looking to stay healthy.
How to Rock Your Walk<p>Walking isn't just fun and healthy. It's accessible.</p><p>"Walking is cheap," says Dr. John Paul H. Rue, a sports medicine doctor at <a href="https://mdmercy.com/" target="_blank">Mercy Medical Center in Baltimore</a>. "You can do it anywhere at any time; [it] requires little to no special equipment and has many of the same cardio benefits as running or other more intense workouts."</p><p>Want to up your walking game? Try the tips below.</p>
Use Hand Weights<p>Cardio and strength training can go hand-in-hand when you add weights to your walk.</p><p>A <a href="https://journals.lww.com/acsm-msse/Fulltext/2019/03000/Associations_of_Resistance_Exercise_with.14.aspx" target="_blank">2019 study</a> found that weight training is good for your heart, and <a href="https://www.mayoclinicproceedings.org/article/S0025-6196(17)30167-2/abstract" target="_blank">research</a> shows it reduces the risk of developing a <a href="https://www.healthline.com/health/nutrition-metabolism-disorders" target="_blank">metabolic disorder</a> by 17 percent. People with metabolic disorders have a higher chance of being diagnosed with high cholesterol, high blood pressure, and diabetes.</p><p>Rue suggests not carrying weights for your entire walk.</p><p>"Hand weights can give you an added level of energy burning, but you have to be careful with these because carrying [them] over a long period of time or while walking could actually lead to some overuse injuries," he says.</p>
Make It a Circuit<p>As another option, consider doing a circuit. First, put a pair of dumbbells on your lawn or somewhere in your home. Walk around the block once, then stop and do some bicep curls and tricep lifts before walking around the block again.</p><p>Rue recommends <a href="https://www.healthline.com/health/exercise-fitness/running-with-weights" target="_blank">avoiding ankle weights</a> during cardio workouts, as they force you to use your quadriceps rather than hamstrings. They can also cause muscle imbalance, according to the <a href="https://www.health.harvard.edu/staying-healthy/wearable-weights-how-they-can-help-or-hurt" target="_blank">Harvard Health Letter</a>.</p>
Find a Fitness Trail<p>Strength training isn't limited to weights. You can get stronger by <a href="https://www.healthline.com/health/bodyweight-workout" target="_blank">simply using your body</a>.</p><p>Often found at parks, fitness trails are obstacle courses with equipment for pullups, pushups, rowing, and stretches to build upper and lower body strength.</p><p>Try searching "fitness trails near me" online, checking out your local parks and recreation website, or calling the municipal office to <a href="https://calisthenics-parks.com/" target="_blank">find one</a>.</p>
Recruit a Friend<p>People who workout together stay healthy together.</p><p><a href="https://bmcgeriatr.biomedcentral.com/articles/10.1186/s12877-017-0584-3" target="_blank">One study</a> showed that older adults who exercised with a group improved or maintained their functional health and enjoyed their lives more.</p><p>Enlist the help of a walking buddy with a regimen you aspire to have. If you don't know anyone in your area, apps like <a href="https://www.strava.com/" target="_blank">Strava</a> have social networking features so you can get support from fellow exercisers.</p>
Try Meditation<p>According to the <a href="https://www.nccih.nih.gov/research/statistics/nhis/2017" target="_blank">2017 National Health Interview Survey</a>, published by the National Institutes of Health, meditation is on the rise, and for good reason.</p><p>Researchers <a href="https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/29616846/" target="_blank">found</a> that mind-body relaxation practices can regulate inflammation, <a href="https://www.healthline.com/health/biological-rhythms" target="_blank">circadian rhythms</a>, and <a href="https://www.healthline.com/health/glucose" target="_blank">glucose</a> metabolism, as well as lower <a href="https://www.healthline.com/health/high-blood-pressure-hypertension" target="_blank">blood pressure</a>.</p><p>"Any form of exercise can be turned into a meditation of some type, either by the surroundings you are walking in, like a park or trail, or by blocking out the outside world with music on your headphones," Rue says.</p><p>You can also play a podcast or download an app like <a href="https://www.headspace.com/headspace-meditation-app" target="_blank">Headspace</a> that has a library of guided meditations to practice while you walk.</p>
Do Fartlek Walks<p>Typically used in running, fartlek intervals alternate periods of increased and decreased speed. These are <a href="https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/benefits-of-hiit" target="_blank">high-intensity interval training (HIIT)</a> workouts, which allow exercisers to accomplish more in less time.</p><p><a href="https://journals.plos.org/plosone/article?id=10.1371/journal.pone.0154075" target="_blank">One study</a> showed that 10-minute interval training improved <a href="https://www.healthline.com/health/metabolic-syndrome" target="_blank">cardiometabolic</a> health, or lowered the risk of heart disease, stroke, and diabetes, just as well as working out at a continuous pace for 50 minutes.</p><p><a href="https://journals.plos.org/plosone/article?id=10.1371/journal.pone.0111489" target="_blank">Research</a> also shows that HIIT workouts increase muscle <a href="https://www.healthline.com/health/fast-twitch-muscles" target="_blank">oxidative</a> capacity, or the ability to use oxygen. To do a fartlek walk, try walking at an increased pace for 3 minutes, slow down for 2 minutes, and repeat.</p>
Gradually Increase Pace<p>A faster walking pace is associated with a lower risk of <a href="https://www.healthline.com/health/copd" target="_blank">chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD)</a> and respiratory diseases, according to a <a href="https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/30303933/" target="_blank">2019 study</a>.</p><p>Still, it's best not to go from a stroll to an Olympic-worthy power walk in a day. Instead, increase your pace gradually to prevent injury.</p><p>"Start by walking at a brisk pace for about 10 minutes per day, 3 to 5 days per week," Rue says. "Once you've done this for a few weeks, increase your time by 5 to 10 minutes per day until you get to 30 minutes."</p>
Add Stairs<p>You've likely heard that taking the stairs instead of an elevator is a way to add more movement into your daily routine. It's also a way to step up your walking. Stair climbing has been shown to <a href="https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S2211335519301123?via%3Dihub" target="_blank">decrease the risk of mortality</a> and can easily add a bit more challenge to your walk.</p><p>If you don't have stairs in your home, you can often find them outside a local municipal building, train station, or at a high school stadium.</p>
Is Your Walk a True Cardio Workout?<p>Not all walks are equal. A walk that's too leisurely may not provide enough burn to qualify as cardio. To see if you're getting a good workout, try to <a href="https://www.healthline.com/health/how-to-check-heart-rate" target="_blank">measure your heart rate</a> using a monitor.</p><p>"A target goal for a good walking workout heart rate is about 50 to 70 percent of your maximum heart rate," Rue says, adding that maximum heart rate is <a href="https://www.healthline.com/health/fitness-exercise/fat-burning-heart-rate" target="_blank">typically calculated</a> by 220 beats per minute minus your age.</p><p>You can also monitor how easily you can carry on a conversation while you walk to gauge your heart rate.</p><p>"If you can walk and carry on a normal conversation, that's probably a lower intensity walk," says Rue. "If you are slightly breathless but can still have a conversation, that's probably a moderate workout. If you are out of breath and can't talk normally, that's a vigorous workout."</p>
Takeaway<p>By shaking up your routine, you can add excitement to your workout and reap even more rewards than a basic walk provides. Increasing the pace and intensity of a workout will make it more effective.</p><p>Simply pick your favorite variation to add some spice to your next walk.</p>
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