Detroit public schools to shut off drinking water after tests reveal elevated lead, copper levels

Posted at 12:01 PM, Aug 29, 2018
and last updated 2018-08-29 19:53:30-04

Tests revealed elevated lead and copper levels in the drinking water in Detroit public schools, prompting all of the drinking water to be shut off.

The following statement was released from Dr. Nikolai Vitti, superintendent of Detroit Public Schools Community District:

I initiated water testing of all of our school buildings during the spring to ensure the safety of our students and employees. This was not required by federal, state, or city law or mandate. This testing, unlike previous testing, evaluated all water sources from sinks to drinking fountains. This past week initial results were returned for 24 schools and higher than acceptable levels were identified for copper and/or lead in 16 schools at one or more water sources. I immediately turned off the drinking water at those schools and provided water bottles until water coolers arrive.

When I started as superintendent last year, I was notified that 10 schools were using a DiHydro filtration system. I made the decision to shut off all drinking fountains and provide bottled water and water coolers to those schools at that time because of my concerns with water quality despite the intervention. The latest water results (16 schools), coupled with those from 2016 (10 DiHydro schools) and follow up results in the spring of 2018 for schools identified with concerns in 2016 (8 schools) in the spring, brings the total number of schools with water quality issues to 34.

Although we have no evidence that there are elevated levels of copper or lead in our other schools (over 50) 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.  

I have communicated this decision to the Mayor’s Office and the Mayor and his team are supportive of the decision and intend to require all city charter schools to participate in the same level of water testing as we initiated last year. The Mayor’s Office plans to partner with us to determine challenges with water quality in our schools and solutions to them.

We have communicated our decision to staff and families and will continue to communicate when students return to school next week.

The Great Lakes Water Authority and the Detroit Water Sewerage Department also released a joint statement assuring Detroit residents and customers of the regional water system that they are not affected by the lead and copper issues that the DPS School District is experiencing. 

Here is the full statement: 

Aging school infrastructure (i.e. plumbing) is the reason for the precautionary measure of providing bottled water. The treated drinking water provided by GLWA and distributed by DWSD not only meets, but surpasses all federal and state Safe Drinking Water Act regulations for quality and safety. The water at GLWA’s treatment plants is tested hourly and DWSD has no lead service lines connected to any DPSCD building. The drinking water is of unquestionable quality. GLWA and DWSD stand ready to provide any technical assistance to DPSCD.