‘This is inexcusable’: Rep. Aiyash calls on state to address lead in Hamtramck’s water

By: - November 4, 2021 3:48 am

State Rep. Abraham Aiyash (D-Hamtramck) speaks at rally on Capitol lawn to protest threat to federal COVID-19 aid on March 2, 2021 | Allison R. Donahue

After Hamtramck officials announced two weeks ago that high levels of lead were found in samples of the city’s water, the state House on Tuesday adopted a resolution calling on the state to quickly replace the lead service lines that have left residents scrambling for tap filters and bottled water.

“Hamtramck is home,” state Rep. Abraham Aiyash (D-Hamtramck), who sponsored the resolution, said during Tuesday’s House session. “It’s a city within a city, and, at just two square miles, it’s packed with so much love and quirkiness. Recently, during regular testing of our water, a sample of homes had heightened levels of lead — in some cases, the homes tested higher than what was found in some of the homes in Flint.

“My constituents are confused, scared and concerned about whether they will be able to turn on their tap and know their water is safe to drink, to cook, to bathe, and to clean with,” Aiyash continued. “In the Great Lakes state, this is inexcusable. Michigan sits on a quarter of the world’s fresh water. We have a responsibility to be stewards of this water and to ensure that all Michiganders have the safety, security and right to clean water.”

Hamtramck, a city of about 28,000 people that is surrounded by Detroit, is one of a string of Michigan muncipalities testing positive for elevated levels of lead this year. That includes Benton Harbor — a predominantly Black city where thousands of residents are unable to use their tap water because of elevated levels of lead — the city of Wayne in Wayne County, the village of Manchester in Washtenaw County and Mills Township in Midland County. 

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State officials said those higher lead levels are being reported due to the collision of aging water infrastructure with an increase in water testing that has been mandated following the Flint water crisis, a public health disaster under GOP former Gov. Rick Snyder that left the majority Black city’s water contaminated with skyrocketing levels of lead.

Of the 42 water samples that officials recently took from Hamtramck, six of them had lead levels above what the Environmental Protection Agency deems “action levels,” according to a city statement issued Oct. 20. Once a city hits those numbers that indicate a dangerous amount of lead in the water — though public health experts emphasize that no amount of lead is safe — both the state and the city are required by law to take action to address the the lead, a toxic chemical that is particularly dangerous for children and can cause brain and kidney damage, behavioral problems and even death.

Following the city of Hamtramck’s announcement about the lead levels on Oct. 20, city and state officials have partnered to distribute free water filters to residents. However, as has been seen in Benton Harbor, where residents received water filters in 2018 but continue to face dangerously high levels of lead, that solution doesn’t necessarily mean the situation is safe for residents. 

Instead, Aiyash said he wants to see state officials act on replacing the city’s aging lead pipes, from where officials said lead is seeping into the water. The lead pipes are also a source of water contamination in Benton Harbor.

“My hometown is set to celebrate its centennial next year, but with that pride comes a recognition that our infrastructure, particularly our water infrastructure, is old,” Aiyash said. “Nearly 6,000 of 7,000 homes still have lead service lines, and the only way to prevent a full-blown public health crisis that we’ve seen in places like Benton Harbor and Flint is to take the necessary action to remove and replace all of the lead service lines in Hamtramck.”

My constituents are confused, scared and concerned about whether they will be able to turn on their tap and know their water is safe to drink, to cook, to bathe, and to clean with.

– Rep. Abraham Aiyash (D-Hamtramck)

Aiyash’s resolution is being sent to Democratic Gov. Gretchen Whitmer and the Michigan Department of Environment, Great Lakes and Energy (EGLE). 

Scott Dean, an EGLE spokesman, said Tuesday that the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) is working with local government and health departments to address the lead levels in Hamtramck and all other locales facing lead in their water. Come January, the state will be partnering with a new leader in Hamtramck: Amer Ghalib, a health care worker originally from Yemen who defeated Hamtramck Mayor Karen Majewski in Tuesday’s election to become the city’s first-ever Muslim mayor.

Among various efforts, Dean said state officials are continuing to distribute water filters, keeping an eye on child and adult blood lead data, and conducting further tap water testing. 

According to Dean, Hamtramck reported to the state that there are 589 service lines that are definitely lead and 4,632 that are likely lead. It costs about $5,000 to replace a lead service line, Dean said, which means the city would need about $3 million to replace all the lead lines.

The city has previously received some state funding to replace lead lines, including $755,000 in 2019 and $188,315 in 2021. Additionally, the city could be eligible for $3 million in state and federal funds, according to EGLE.


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Anna Gustafson
Anna Gustafson

Anna Gustafson is the assistant editor at Michigan Advance, where her beats include economic justice, health care and immigration. Previously the founder of the Muskegon Times and the editor at Rapid Growth Media in Grand Rapids, Anna has worked as an editor and reporter for news outlets across the country. She began her journalism career reporting on state politics in Wisconsin and has gone on to cover government, racial justice and immigration reform in New York City, education in Connecticut, the environment in Wyoming, and more. Previously, Anna lived in Argentina and Morocco, and, when she’s not working, she’s often trying to perfect the empanada and couscous recipes she fell in love with in these countries. You’ll likely also find her working on her century-old home in downtown Lansing, writing that ever-elusive novel and hiking throughout Michigan.