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High levels of lead, copper prompt Detroit district to shut off drinking water

Aug. 30, 2018
After tests found elevated levels of copper or lead at 16 schools, officials decided to shut off drinking water at all district schools.

The Detroit school district is shutting off drinking water to all of its schools after test results found elevated levels of lead or copper in 16 schools.

The Detroit Free Press reports that the district's decision came even as officials from the city and the Great Lakes Water Authority sought to assure residents that water provided by the authority is safe to drink. They say the district's aging infrastructure is the root of the problem. 

Nikolai Vitti, superintendent of the Detroit Public Schools Community District, says he will create a task force to determine the cause of the elevated levels and solutions.

"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," Vitti said.

The district's building problems have been a constant source of frustration for Vitti. Earlier this summer, he released details from a facilities review that found the district would need to spend $500 million now to fix the poor conditions in its schools. That price tag will rise to $1.4 billion in five years if the district does nothing.

In May, Vitti said the district didn't make the right investments in facilities while it was under the control of state-appointed emergency managers from 2009 to 2016. Vitti became superintendent in May 2017.

John Roach, a spokesman for Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan, says the mayor is "fully supportive" of the approach Vitti has taken.

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