Are Detroit water shutoffs and illnesses related?

water meter

“A significant difference in diagnoses” of skin or gastrointestinal infection was found in residents who lived on blocks with water shutoffs. But researchers acknowledge not enough data yet to show a causal link.

A recent study by water activists and researchers at Henry Ford Global Health Initiative has shown an association between shutoffs and some water-associated illnesses.

Working with the group We the People of Detroit, researchers compared block-level water disconnection data in Detroit from January 2015 to February 2016 with Henry Ford Hospital admissions and diagnoses for gastrointestinal and soft tissue infections during that time.  

MORE COVERAGE: Detroit cites progress, but water shutoffs actually rose last year  

MORE COVERAGE: Interactive map: Search Detroit water shutoffs by neighborhood

The records showed that patients who lived on a block with shutoffs were 1.55 times more likely to have a water-associated illness, even when other socioeconomic situations are taken into consideration.

Water activists used the findings to renew their call for a moratorium on the shutoffs, and planned to begin a robo-call campaign this week bringing the issue to the attention of city residents.

“Common sense tells us that you can’t deprive tens of thousands of people of water and not suffer serious public health consequences,” said Monica Lewis-Patrick of the We the People group.

In a press statement issued by We the People, the study’s lead author, Alexander Plum, said the study shows that “depriving people of access to water has health consequences.”

Bridge attempted to interview Plum, who is the Global Health Initiative’s senior program coordinator. Henry Ford officials responded by saying he was out of the country last week and issuing a statement saying the study “found only a general correlation” and “can’t be used to determine any direct cause and effect.”

The City of Detroit has received the results of the study. Health department officials did not respond to requests for comment.

About The Author

Joel Kurth

Joel Kurth is the Detroit Editor for Bridge Magazine.

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Comments

Monica Day
Tue, 05/02/2017 - 1:01pm

To suggest that we need research to confirm that poor health could be caused by lack of running water in the home is crazy-making. OF COURSE water shutoffs is a health crisis - it is a health emergency.

Monica Lewis-Patrick
Sun, 05/07/2017 - 8:59am

Thank you Joel for your diligence and truthseeking on this issue of "water equity and access". We know from a recent MSU report that 35% of Americans will not be able to afford water in the next 5 years. For those that strongly blame the citizens of Detroit, fail to see this as a state and national emergency. Water associated illnesses are not stopping at the addresses of poor folks, but will cause a regional outbreak. Your hotdog and beer at the games may be prepared by someone without water. The open community spaces in the city may be exposed to Hepatitis A, which is on the rise in Detroit, Wayne, Macomb and Oakland Counties. Our water is one water regardless of what they name it and I believe the majprity of Michiganders want a healthy, hydrated and racially healed and whole Michigan! Make Water affordable in Detroit, Flint and across the great state of Michigan!