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

Schools to start year with bottled water

Drinking fountain (Getty)

DETROIT – Detroit public schools will start the year using bottled water in every school after tests revealed elevated lead and copper levels in the drinking water.

The Detroit Public Schools Community District conducted tests on all faucets at schools. The water coming from DWSD passed the standard, but fixtures and lines caused elevated levels at some of the schools. 

Here's what Detroit  Public Schools Community District Superintendent Nikolai P. Vitti said in a letter:

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. 

Chrystal Wilson, spokeswoman for DPSCD, provide the following list of schools that have a strategy for bottled water and water coolers: 

  • Ben Carson
  • Breithaupt 
  • Bunche 
  • Detroit Collegiate Preparatory 
  • Edison Elementary School 
  • John R. King Academy 
  • Moses Field 
  • Thirkell Elementary School 
  • Thurgood Marshall 
  • Wayne Elementary School 
  • Burton International
  • Bow Elementary-Middle School 
  • Carstens Elementary-Middle School
  • Carver STEM
  • Clark Elementary-Middle School 
  • Detroit Lions Academy 
  • Sampson-Webber Academy 
  • Spain Elementary-Middle School 
  • Academy of the Americas Elementary-Middle School 
  • Adult Education- East 
  • Bates Academy 
  • Bennett Elementary-Middle School 
  • Cass Technical High School 
  • Roberto Clemente Elementary
  • Clippert Elementary Middle School 
  • Coleman Young Elementary School 
  • Davis Aerospace @ Golightly 
  • Dixon Academy 
  • Foreign Language Immersion 
  • Hutchinson @ Howe 
  • Keidan 
  • Noble Elementary-Middle School 
  • Marcus Garvey 
  • Renaissance High School 
  • Water tested at Detroit schools in 2016, 2017

    In February 2017, drinking water lead and copper levels were deemed now below the Environmental Protection Agency's guidelines at all 94 of the Detroit Public Schools Community District buildings. That was nearly a year after testing found 19 out of 62 buildings in the district had elevated lead and copper levels in drinking water. 

    Read back: 

    UPDATE: Task force will be created after tests reveal elevated lead levels in Detroit public schools

    About the Authors:

    Ken Haddad is the digital content and audience manager for WDIV / He also authors the Morning Report Newsletter and various other newsletters. He's been with WDIV since 2013. He enjoys suffering through Lions games on Sundays in the fall.