Hamtramck, state give residents water filters amid high lead level concerns

Charles E. Ramirez
The Detroit News

Hundreds of Hamtramck residents lined up Thursday to pick up free faucet filters and pitchers with filters after city officials said tests showed water samples from some homes exceeded state and federal safety standards.

LaTonya Hatcher, 49, was among them.

The City of Hamtramck partnered with Michigan Department of Health and Human Services to distribute one free water filter with replacement cartridges, per address, to Hamtramck residents on Oct. 21, 2021. There was one line for people on foot and another line of cars waiting to get either a jug filter or a faucet filter.

"I want to get a filter for the sink," the mother of two said. "I live in a newer neighborhood and the pipes might be fine, but I was walking by and saw they were giving out filters, so I thought I should ask if I need one."

The city and the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services Thursday handed out the filters to Hamtramck residents from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. in the parking lot of the Hamtramck Town Center shopping mall on the corner of Joseph Campau and Holbrook avenues.

The move came a day after city officials informed residents its tap water exceeded state lead limits in an annual test — 17 parts per billion, above the action level of 15 ppb. Lead in water can cause brain and nervous system damage in children and health problems in adults.

On Thursday, some residents took advantage of a drive-thru line while others stood in another for people on foot. At one point, the line of cars of people seeking the filters snaked along southbound Joseph Campau and eastbound Holbrook. The line of pedestrians wound around from a pop-up gazebo near Joseph Campau through the parking lot to a couple of the strip mall's store fronts.

Hamtramck Mayor Karen Majewski was present, speaking to residents and the media.

"It's quite a traffic jam," Majewski said. "I am sorry that we're not going to be able to help everyone who's here today. We managed to get 700 filters on short notice."

"We'll have to go back to Lansing and get more," she said. "Once we do, we'll organize another event."

By about 12:30 p.m., city officials announced they had run out of the 100 or so water filter pitchers they had. They said they would distribute more next Tuesday at 11 a.m.

The city of Hamtramck ran out of water filters to distribute to residents on Thursday, Oct. 21, 2021. But officials said more would be distributed soon.

Majewski also said she wants residents to know the water is safe for bathing, brushing their teeth, washing their clothes and washing their dishes.

As he stood in line, Hamtramck resident Mohammed Shah, 61, said he wants to get a filter to be on the safe side. 

"I had my water tested a couple of years ago and it came back safe," Shah said. "But I wonder if that may have changed."

On Wednesday, Hamtramck officials sent residents a letter that said the city's water supply has tested at 17 parts per billion, which is slightly higher than the action level of 15 ppb as part of the state and federal lead and copper rules.

At least 42 homes were sampled, they said. The annual testing of homes with lead service lines is required by the Michigan Department of Environment, Great Lakes, and Energy.

"I want to remind people that out of the 42 households, only six tested at elevated levels," Majewski said Thursday. "Of course, we don't want even one to test with an elevated level. But I want people to know not every house in Hamtramck has high lead levels."

The mayor said the issue is really an infrastructure problem that all older cities in the United States are facing. She said the city has replaced more than 260 lead pipes in the past year and plans to replace 350 next year, but communities like Hamtramck need more funding from the state and federal level to help get the job done.

"We're doing this piece by piece," Majewski said. "We just can't do it all at one time.

There are around 5,900 lead lines in the Hamtramck that have been in the ground for many decades, Hamtramck City Manager Kathleen Angerer said Wednesday.

The city's drinking water comes from the Great Lakes Water Authority, where there is no exceedance until the water passes through the lead lines and fixtures inside of homes where it becomes tainted with lead, Angerer also said.

Tia Fletcher, 37, and Ross Little, 36, walked to the shopping center from their Hamtramck home to see what they needed to do to get a filter. They left empty handed, but were given good news: The city recently replaced the lead pipes in their neighborhood and their water is safe, she said.

"It's a huge relief," Fletcher said.

Ebony Caine says she is concerned about the lead in the pipes in Hamtramck due to the effects it may have on her family members' health.

Officials said Hamtramck's water will be tested for lead levels every six months, similar to what has happened in Benton Harbor, the southwest Michigan city of 9,615 residents with three straight years of high lead levels and where the city this week declared a state of emergency.

Hamtramck resident Ebony Caine, 43, said she lives in an older house and is concerned lead could affect her and her family. 

"I buy bottles of water all of the time. Sometimes, I'll go to the faucet, fill it back up and freeze it," Caine said as she waited in the line. 'I didn't really think about the water I was drinking before this happened."


Twitter: @CharlesERamirez