Highland Park Finds High Levels of Lead in Drinking Water, but Officials Caution Against Panic

The city is distributing filters while the officials look for funding to replace lead service lines.

A row of houses in Highland Park

Highland Park

Eleanore Catolico

Correction appended, 4:47 pm, July 19, 2019: The original version of this post misstated the number of lead service lines that need to be replaced by Fall 2020. The correct number is 7 percent.

Highland Park found high levels of lead in the water of nine residents’ homes, city officials said at a press conference yesterday. But officials cautioned against panic and recommended running water for at least 30 seconds before consuming.

The lead levels are three times higher than national lead safety standards at 57 parts-per-billion. This is an average lead level for the homes tested. The national action level for is 15 parts-per-billion.

Most of the homes in Highland Park have lead service lines. Damon L. Garrett, director of Highland Park’s Water Department, said that although lead levels are high, the water in the city is still safe to drink.

“I would like to say that this is the first time that we’ve had an elevated test, so we are not ringing the alarm saying the water is unsafe,” Garrett said during a press conference yesterday. A limited supply of filters will be made available today.

To help fix the problem, 12 miles of lead service lines need to be replaced, but this may come at a high cost for local taxpayers.

“I look at the Flint situation: we’re not going to repeat that.” – Highland Park Mayor Hubert Yopp

There are currently 2400 active water customers in Highland Park, and the majority of the population are a mix of youth and retirees. The city is seeking federal and state loans to fund the much needed water infrastructure repair. If the loans are denied, it will be up to residents to pay for replacing lead service lines on their properties. Garrett estimates this cost to be between $5,000 to $9,000 dollars per house. The median income level for Highland Park is about $16,000 a year, according to the U.S. Census.

Highland Park’s Mayor Hubert Yopp said the state needs to help to prevent another water crisis from happening, citing the cost of testing the entire city’s water system.

“I think the state should step up,” with funding, Yopp said. “I look at the Flint situation: we’re not going to repeat that.”

It is unknown if residents of the homes tested have high lead levels in their blood. The city is required to replace 7 percent of all lead service lines by Fall 2020, according to Highland Park officials.


  • Eleanore Catolico
    Eleanore Catolico is Civic Reporter with 101.9 WDET, covering local affairs with the Detroit Documenters program. She enjoys techno.