Legal activists urge state to suspend Detroit water shutoffs

    Detroit | Canva photo

    A coalition of civil rights lawyers announced Tuesday that they will petition the state to force the city of Detroit to end water shutoffs to its citizens, citing health concerns.

    The group including the ACLU of Michigan, the Detroit Justice Center and the Great Lakes Environmental Law Center, among others, cite evidence to the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services (MDHHS) that they say shows continued shutoffs could lead to a public health emergency. 

    water faucet
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    “The public health crisis DWSD creates by shutting off water service for thousands of people is completely avoidable,” said Mark Fancher, staff attorney for the ACLU of Michigan’s Racial Justice Project.  “If they simply agreed to adopt a plan that makes water affordable for even the poorest customers, mass water shutoffs and the dangerous conditions they create would not occur.”

    The health hazards cited include “low infant weight resulting from inability to prepare baby formula; elevated blood pressure brought on by the stress of not having water; illnesses resulting from consumption of rain water from barrels; diabetics who suffer complications because of the inability to prepare meals with clean water; chronic urinary tract infections among women and children; upper respiratory illnesses; and chronic and infected eczema and other skin disorders.”

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    In April, Detroit’s Water and Sewerage Commission said that it’s seen a dramatic decrease in the number of customers who faced the cancelation of their water services.

    Activists criticized their assertion, however, with the Michigan Welfare Rights Organization’s Sylvia Orduño arguing to Detroit News that many of those dropped from the shutoff rolls have had their service canceled altogether — saying, “If you’re not eligible (for assistance) or can’t come up with the monies they require, you are not going to get restored.”

    Derek Robertson
    Derek Robertson is a former reporter for the Advance. Previously, he wrote for Politico Magazine in Washington. He is a Genesee County native and graduate of both Wayne State University, where he studied history, and the Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern University.

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