Detroit to shut drinking water to all schools after lead found

(Reuters) – Detroit authorities on Wednesday ordered drinking water shut off at all 110 city public schools pending further testing after elevated levels of lead and copper were found in water at more than a dozen buildings.

Over the weekend, supplies were cut at 16 schools and bottled water was provided until water coolers arrive, Detroit Public Schools Community District superintendent Nikolai Vitti said.

Although there is no evidence of elevated levels of copper or lead in other schools, Vitti decided to shut off water throughout the system “until a deeper and broader analysis can be conducted to determine the long-term solutions for all schools,” he said in a statement.

“We have no reason to believe that any children have been harmed,” Chrystal Wilson, a spokeswoman for the district, said. 

About 50,000 students are enrolled in the district, which operates 110 schools, according to its website.

Detroit public schools students are due to start classes on Tuesday, though teachers are already working.

Water safety is a particularly sensitive issue in Michigan, where lead contamination in the water supply of Flint prompted dozens of lawsuits and criminal charges against former government officials.

Medical research has linked lead to a stunting of children’s neural development. Exposure to copper can cause gastrointestinal distress, anemia and disrupt liver and kidney functions, according to public health officials.

Flint, a working class city where most residents are African-American, switched its water supply from Lake Huron to the Flint River in April 2014 to cut costs. The corrosive river water caused lead to leach from pipes. The city switched back to Lake Huron water in October 2015, but the contamination continued.

Vitti said he initiated water testing of all of Detroit‘s school buildings in the spring and the testing was not required by federal, state or city rules.

(Reporting by Suzannah Gonzales in Chicago; Editing by Cynthia Osterman)