Detroit schools drinking water shut-off: U-M experts available to discuss

August 29, 2018
Contact: Jim Erickson ericksn@umich.edu

Concept illustration of drinking water. Illustration credit: Katie BeukemaEXPERTS ADVISORY

The Detroit school district is shutting off drinking water to all its schools after elevated levels of lead or copper were found at 16 of 24 recently tested schools. University of Michigan experts are available to discuss the situation.

Thomas Lyon holds the Dow Chair of Sustainable Science, Technology and Commerce, with appointments in both the Ross School of Business and the School for Environment and Sustainability. He can discuss the factors that are related to drinking water quality violations, such as private versus public ownership, groundwater versus surface water sources, age of the system, etc.

“It is deeply disheartening that Detroit schools have these water problems,” he said. “Still, it is encouraging that Superintendent (Nikolai) Vitti had them tested and responded quickly when the results showed elevated levels of lead or copper.

“If there is any positive legacy to the Flint disaster, it is in creating greater awareness of threats to safe drinking water and the need for vigilance. Even if the municipal water supply system is providing high-quality water, old water pipes in buildings can cause contamination. It is a good sign that Detroit is taking proactive measures to protect its school children.”

Contact: 734-615-1639, tplyon@umich.edu


Alfred Franzblau is a professor of environmental health sciences at the School of Public Health with many years of experience in the evaluation and assessment of occupational and environmental lead exposure among adults.

Contact: 734-763-2758, afranz@umich.edu


Joel Blum, a professor in the Department of Earth and Environmental Sciences, has studied lead and mercury in soils, rain and dust. He is editor-in-chief of the journal Earth and Space Chemistry and recently served on a National Academy of Sciences committee studying lead source attribution at Superfund sites. Blum can answer questions on the various sources of lead to which children can potentially be exposed.

Contact: 734-615-3242, jdblum@umich.edu


Stuart Batterman is a professor of environmental health sciences at the School of Public Health whose research addresses environmental impact assessment, human exposure and health risk assessment. He works on exposure measures that can be used in risk assessments and epidemiological studies, measuring toxic compounds found as pollutants in drinking water and ambient and indoor air.

“This action is warranted given that older drinking water fountains are a known source of lead exposure. The parts inside these fountains, which include brass and copper pipes, fittings, and heat exchangers, as well as the solder that joins these parts together, can contain and release lead. While drinking water is not the sole or always the most important source of lead exposure, we should minimize exposure, especially to potentially vulnerable groups like children. A number of US cities have undertaken testing and removed or turned off these fountains.

Contact: 734-763-2417, stuartb@umich.edu