City of Detroit celebrates 5,000th replacement of lead service lines

The Detroit Water and Sewerage Department marked a milestone by replacing more than 5,000 lead service lines.

Officials say it ensures the drinking water system is safe - and provides jobs for Detroiters.

The Michigan Department of Environment, Great Lakes and Energy put up $85 million to get the job done. According to EPA, lead service lines are a primary source of lead in drinking water in communities around the country.

Although exposure can happen in other ways, it’s most troubling for children because it can lead to learning and developmental issues

"We have got the best water quality and drinking water in America," said Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan. "We’ve tested it and it is great. We know the tragedy of Flint when they switched off of Detroit water."

In children, there is no safe blood lead level. And in adults, lead exposure can lead to high blood pressure, kidney issues,  impact reproduction and cause other problems .

Detroiters understand replacing lead service lines is important before there’s a problem.

"Time is of the essence, I have no problem. I’m patient," resident Lewis Morris said.

"These lead lines were put in 80-90, in some cases 100 years ago," Duggan said. "And over time, they will deteriorate. Detroit is different than alot of other cities. We didn't wait, we’re replacing these lead lines and getting ahead of it."

DWSD Director Gary Brown estimates Detroit has roughly 80,000 lead service lines.

"We’re going into neighborhoods that are disadvantaged, low income," he said. "We are going into neighborhoods that have a lot of kids. We’re working in those neighborhoods first."

Mayor Duggan says they’re replacing more than 150 lines a week to get through the entire city in the next 10 years - and hiring Detroiters.

"We can give the city good fresh clean water, and that’s what I do everyday," said Darious Byrd, DWSD employee.

DWSD has increased contractor capacity and added crews to the replacement of these lead service lines from 700 per year - and now they are up to 8,000 a year.