DETROIT — Today, members of the House’s Detroit Caucus called on Republican leadership to end years of inaction and immediately take up the Democratic plan to clean up dangerous contaminants and fund infrastructure improvements. Their call came in the wake of revelations that Detroit Public Schools Community District (DPSCD) shut off drinking water to the entire district after elevated lead and copper levels were discovered in 16 out of 24 schools tested, with results for 50 schools still being processed. House Democrats introduced legislation this year to fund lead abatement and environmental cleanup.
“Years of inaction and disinvestment in our schools and infrastructure have taken their toll, but our students should not have to pay the price,” said state Rep. Sherry Gay-Dagnogo (D-Detroit), chairwoman of the Detroit Caucus. “Detroit students already face some of the toughest challenges in our state, and today’s revelations about contaminated water in our schools only highlights the gross inequity and inequality in our current school system. I’m grateful that Superintendent Vitti had the courage to shut down the water system to protect our students — now it’s time for my Republican colleagues to be courageous and put down the DeVos education reform playbook and instead help us protect our students from poison.”
Following the Flint water crisis, a state-wide effort was made to test water in cities and schools across Michigan for elevated lead and copper, yet only minimal efforts have been made by legislative leadership to update infrastructure upon contamination discovery. Instead, mitigation efforts have focused on stop-gap measures like silicate coating rather than replacing the pipes and fixtures as Legislative Democrats have called for. While DPSCD conducted its own water quality testing this summer, those tests did not cover students who attend city charter schools.
“Although I applaud Dr. Nikolai Vitti for being proactive in addressing the high lead and copper levels that were found in the schools’ water supply, the lack of running water at the schools presents a very serious health and safety concern for all students and staff,” said state Rep. LaTanya Garrett (D-Detroit). “Without running water, students and staff will be unable to properly sanitize their hands or use the restroom facilities. To say the least, without running water, the students are forced to learn in an unhealthy environment. Accordingly, I am calling on our Governor and State Legislature to provide DPSCD with all of the necessary resources to address this very serious problem so that our children will be able to learn in a safe, clean and sanitized environment.”
Earlier this year, House Democrats outlined a plan to preserve and expand the Clean Michigan Initiative, a bond program to fund environmental cleanup and protection first approved by voters in 1998. The plan would restore funding to the initiative, ensuring critical, ongoing projects — including lead abatement in homes and municipal buildings — are able to continue. So far, there has been no indication Republican leadership plans to take up the legislation this fall.
State Rep. Stephanie Chang (D-Detroit) joined the call for action, adding that additional funding should be set aside for the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality to provide water filters to Detroit school as part of any upcoming supplemental budget bill.
“The health and safety of our students should never be at risk in our schools or on our roads,” said Chang, sponsor of one of the bills in the Clean Michigan Initiative Package. “Detroiters already face some of the worst pollution across the state and this discovery only compounds that burden. While it is critical for us to get water filters into the schools immediately, we need to be focused on long term solutions, including legislation to mandate water quality testing in all schools and child care centers across the state. It’s beyond time to get serious about replacing the outdated infrastructure that is poisoning Michigan’s children. I look forward to that happening when session resumes next week.”