Detroit Schools Shut Off Drinking Water After Finding Elevated Levels of Lead, Copper

A task force will investigate the contamination and identify solutions.

The Rundown

Drinking water has been shut off at all Detroit public school buildings following the discovery of elevated levels of lead or copper in several schools.

This spring, Detroit Public Schools Community District (DPSCD) superintendent Nikolai Vitti ordered water testing in the district’s 106 buildings. Water in 18 schools was shut off earlier this summer after test results showed high levels of lead or copper. Recent testing revealed heavy metals in 16 new schools, bringing the total to 34. As a precautionary measure, Vitti ordered drinking water to be turned off across the district.

The DPSCD is forming a task force to investigate the causes behind the elevated levels. According to officials, the contamination is due to aging infrastructure in the schools, and is unrelated to source water from the Great Lakes Water Authority. In the meantime, schools have replaced drinking fountains with water coolers and bottled water as the school year gets underway.

“Although we have no evidence that there are elevated levels of copper or lead in our other schools where we are awaiting test results, out of an abundance of caution and concern for the safety of our students and employees, I am turning off all drinking water in our schools until a deeper and broader analysis can be conducted to determine the long-term solutions for all schools.” — Superintendent Nikolai Vitti, speaking about the decision to shut off water at all 106 Detroit school buildings. Vitti’s decision has been praised by public health officials.

By The Numbers

34 Public schools in Detroit where elevated levels of lead or copper were identified in drinking water.

106 Buildings in the school district. Drinking water has been cut to all of them until further testing is conducted.

$200,000 Cost of providing water coolers and bottled water to schools for two months, according to Vitti.

$500 million Amount required to fix various infrastructure issues across Detroit’s schools, according to a facilities review from this summer. If the district takes no action, the cost of repairs will rise to $1.4 billion in five years.  

Science, Studies, And Reports

The City of Detroit website provides detailed reports on the water testing from each of the district’s schools. The reports summarize findings and note where elevated levels of lead or copper were found in the school. The website also includes mitigation plans, which have been submitted by 14 schools so far.

On The Radar

Although there is “no evidence at all” that Detroit’s schoolchildren have been affected by the elevated lead or copper levels, the DMC Children’s Hospital of Michigan is offering extended hours at its lead clinic. The clinic, which is now open five days a week, allows parents to have their children tested for lead exposure. At the same time, health experts caution that lead exposure could come from a variety of sources, including lead pipes and paint in aging homes.

Resources And Further Reading

Detroit schools shutting off drinking water because of lead, copper (Detroit Free Press)
Detroit’s schools step up the battle against lead, copper in water (Detroit Free Press)
DPSCD Water Testing (City of Detroit)
Water coolers replace drinking fountains at Detroit schools after lead detected (MLive)

Kayla Ritter is a recent graduate of Michigan State University, where she studied International Relations and Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages. She is currently based in Manton, Michigan. Kayla enjoys running, writing, and traveling. Contact Kayla Ritter

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