A lead contamination crisis has forced Detroit schools to shut off water across the district. Students will not have access to water this week, according to statements released by district officials Wednesday (Aug. 29).
“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,” said Nikolai Vitti, superintendent of the Detroit Public Schools Community District, according to the Detroit Free Press.
There was no indication that students’ health had been compromised because of the contaminated water, officials also announced. “Dr. Vitti said … he has no evidence at all that children have been impacted from a health standpoint,” Chrystal Wilson, spokeswoman for the district, told the Free Press.
The district move comes at a time when nearby Flint, Michigan residents are still fearful about lead contaminated water. Detroit, a majority-Black city like Flint, has had an ongoing problem with poor building conditions and unclean water. Sixteen out of 24 of Detroit’s schools that were recently tested had water with elevated levels of lead and copper. Water was immediately shut off at those 16 schools, and students received water bottles. District officials have now taken precautions in shutting off the water across the district’s more than 100 schools.
Detroit officials cited that infrastructure and plumbing played a role in the contamination. The district admitted that mismanagement, similar to what happened in Flint, also contributed to the problem. Officials “didn’t make the right investments in facilities” while it was run by state-appointed emergency managers from 2009 to 2016, said Vitti, who became superintendent last May.
Schools would need to spend $500 million now to fix the poor conditions in its schools, a facilities review showed. The price would balloon to $1.4 billion in five years if officials do nothing, but a district task force will bring in engineers and water quality experts to work on solutions.
While the district battens down the hatches, the city turned to damage control. Detroit officials and representatives from The Great Lakes Water Authority tried to assure residents that water provided by the utility company was safe to drink.