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Back to school with safe drinking water

While school was out, the Michigan Department of Environment, Great Lakes, and Energy (EGLE) helped them make sure drinking water was safe upon students’ return to the classroom. Throughout the school year – and especially during summer break – EGLE works with schools to provide technical assistance, guidance and resources for schools who reach out for help or want more information on their drinking water quality.

EGLE created the school drinking water program to promote healthy drinking water in school and childcare buildings,” says Holly Gohlke, school drinking water coordinator. Funds for the program are geared toward schools and childcare facilities.

Holly Gohlke headshot

Holly Gohlke

Since September of 2020 when the program started, 206 schools and childcare facilities have participated in it. “Since this is entirely a volunteer program, I applaud the facilities that have reached out to EGLE to get their water tested for lead, and for those that had elevated test results, pursued reducing the risk of lead for the health and welfare of the children they serve,” Gohlke added.

Gohlke explained the program in detail on an episode of Central Michigan University’s Charter Central Podcast.

“Stagnant water is the number one cause of bacteria, lead and copper problems in any plumbing system, and the shutdown of the schools due to the pandemic really exacerbated drinking water quality problems,” said Gohlke. “Even newer buildings may have some small amounts of leaded materials in their plumbing. So, everyone needs to be conscientious of this and test the water for lead to see if there is an issue. Some of the things that we recommend is a good flushing program for schools to remove any of that leaded material in stagnant water out of the plumbing system.”

Five steps are needed to ensure healthy drinking water prior to student and staff return:

  • Thoroughly flush the water system in August.
  • Refresh drinking and food preparation taps immediately prior to the return of students (run the water for 30 seconds to a minute at least once a day).
  • Replace all filter cartridges and maintain water use appliances/devices.
  • Test the water for bacteria, lead, and copper to ensure the water's quality.

To provide guidance to schools, EGLE developed two documents on flushing. One is for flushing once or twice a year. The other document covers what we call a fresh tap flushing method, where water at the fixture is run for 30 seconds to a minute. That guidance and other information is on EGLE’s school drinking water website.

Gohlke notes that one purpose of the school drinking water program is to focus on education upfront, to prepare everyone -- teachers and students – about the health effects of quality drinking water, what testing involves, and the ways to reduce the risk of lead in the drinking water. And it's important to have a positive message: quality drinking water is important for development and for your body overall. As a matter of fact, our tagline is Healthy Water, Healthy Kids.