DETROIT’S BOIL WATER ADVISORY IS OVER

Last Updated by Will Glover on

This article was originally written by the Great Lakes Bureau's Mary Ellen Geist for GreatLakesNow.org

UPDATE: 3/3/17 11:00am ET
MDEQ lifts advisory for customers affected by the boil water advisory. “Test show no contamination in Detroit’s water supply. Customers no longer advised to boil their water for drinking and cooking purposes.” a release from the City of Detroit states.

The communities of Hamtramck, Highland Park and parts of Detroit are still under a boil water order until further notice, and more schools have been added to the “closed” list.

The Great Lakes Water Authority says equipment failure led to a water pressure problem at around 5pm on February 28th, and, as a precaution, The Michigan Department of Environmental Quality decided to issue boil water orders for people living in several communities in the Detroit area.

Image courtesy of glwater.org

GLWA Logo, courtesy of glwater.org

Great Lakes Now talked with GLWA’s Chief Operating Officer Cheryl Porter, who says a malfunctioning valve closed and caused the water pressure to drop. She says GLWA officials met with MDEQ and came to the conclusion they needed to err on the side of caution by telling thousands of their customers to boil their water, even though there was no evidence the water was contaminated.

GLWA and MDEQ contacted T.V and Radio stations and sent out emails to city officials with a boil water alert that says this: “Bring all water to a boil, let it boil for one minute, and let it cool before using . . . for drinking, making ice, brushing teeth, washing dishes, and food preparation until further notice. The boil water notice shall remain in effect for the defined area until results from the sampling verify the water is safe to drink. CUSTOMERS WILL BE ADVISED WHEN THE BOIL WATER ADVISORY HAS BEEN LIFTED.”

 Random Boil Water Notifications and Incorrect Maps

 Some businesses closed their doors when they learned about the boil water order. Others stayed open and used boiled water, filtered water or bottled water. Some residents stopped using their water altogether; others boiled their water or used filters.

And some residents and businesses never heard about the boil order water at all.

The Detroit Free Press says thousands of people living downtown were caught by surprise, and that The Detroit Water and Sewerage department did not specifically identify areas where people should boil their water.

Image courtesy of Detroit Public Schools via Wikimedia

Then a revised advisory went out Wednesday morning, which is how Midtown and downtown offices, homes and hospitals were alerted they could be drinking and using contaminated water.

But to make matters worse, a map that went out with the revised boil water order was incorrect and identified the wrong affected areas.

When Detroit Public Schools found out about the boil water order, officials decided to close 25 schools, and decided to close even more – a total of 29 schools – on Friday, March 3rd.  DPSCD Press Secretary Chrystal Wilson tells Great Lakes Now, “Even if the advisory is lifted, the water lines will be flushed with running water prior to the start of school.”(go to the DPSCD website detroitk12.org for the list of schools.)

Great Lakes Now has learned ultimate responsibility for alerting all affected residents and water customers is with the municipalities that distribute the water: Highland Park, Hamtramck and Detroit.

A Failure to Communicate: “I am not feeling safe”

Residents like Theresa Landrum say this incident – along with the way the Flint Water Crisis was handled – show why citizens are losing trust in the authorities charged with making sure people don’t drink contaminated water.  Landrum tells Great Lakes Now there is a “failure to communicate to the public when they are in harm’s way.” She asks, “Why isn’t there some sort of mass communication and notification to tell people to stop using their water?” She says pregnant women and others could have been  in danger when they weren’t notified immediately. She says as far as she can tell, the only way people found out their water could be in danger of becoming contaminated was by accident:  if they happened to turn on their television or radio at the moment the story was on the news.

Landrum says, “I am not feeling safe.”

In addition, Landrum says she has real fears about the condition of Detroit’s infrastructure. She says even if the water comes from the treatment plant pure and clean, “What happens when the water comes through our antiquated pipes? What contaminants get in there before it reaches our faucets?” She says the public should have access to free water testing on a regular basis.

Great Lakes Now was unable to reach the Detroit Water Authority, the Highland Park Water Department or the Hamtramck Water Department.  All the lines were busy.

As of this writing, all tests from the Water Works Treatment plant on Jefferson have shown no contamination from the malfunction. However, more tests must be taken before the boil water order can be lifted.

However, GLWA’s Chief Operating Officer Cheryl Porter says the most recent tests show “The water quality has not been compromised.”

“The second round of test results taken by the Great Lakes Water Authority (GLWA) related to the February 28, 2017, boil water advisory have come back clear. Given that both sets of test results have proven that there was nothing wrong with the water, GLWA has made the recommendation to the impacted communities that the boil water advisory can be lifted.”

-GLWA Officials

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