Erica Digap / Nov 07

Is Detroit Michigan tap water safe to drink? 

Erica Digap / Nov 07

Detroit, Michigan has a long history, and it is particularly known throughout the United States for its pivotal roles in the advent of the modern automobile industry and Motown music. Unfortunately, the state of Michigan has also had its fair share of controversy surrounding contaminated drinking water. 

So can you drink the tap water in Detroit? And does Detroit water still have lead? In this article, we will discuss some of the most common and pressing problems that still plague Detroit’s tap water supply — and why you should definitely filter it first to be safe. 

Key Takeaways: Can you drink the tap water in Detroit? 

Issues with Detroit tap water

Detroit tap water comes from the Detroit River, which runs alongside the city, and nearby Lake Huron. The water supply is then managed by the Detroit Water and Sewage Department (DWSD), which treats and tests the water to ensure that it lines up with all local, state, and federal health standards before it is distributed throughout the city.

Because the water is monitored and tested frequently, Detroit’s tap water is technically safe to drink. Unfortunately, there are serious problems with Detroit’s plumbing system. Its proximity to industrial manufacturing plants also presents some potential problems with chemical and particulate contamination. 

Lead contamination 

Lead is one of the most pressing problems facing the US’s water supply. Lead is a heavy metal that was historically used to build water service lines. Unfortunately, it is also a neurotoxin, and the elevated blood lead levels have been linked to several serious health consequences including reproductive harm. Lead is especially dangerous for children since it has been linked to brain damage. Your body also has no way of getting rid of lead. As a result, several health authorities including the World Health Organization believe that there is no safe level of lead that can be consumed. 

No American water crisis in recent history is quite as infamous as the water situation in Flint, Michigan. Just an hour away from downtown Detroit, Flint made headlines in 2014 when it was discovered that a recent water source switch from the Detroit River to the Flint River led to unprecedented amounts of lead leaching from old pipes and into the water supply used by citizens. Scarily, this water contamination led to extremely elevated blood levels of lead in Flint’s children, with some showing double or nearly triple the levels of lead in their systems since before 2014. 

This disaster has brought plenty of attention to the dangers of lead in drinking water throughout the world. But what about in nearby Detroit? 

Detroit still gets its water from the Detroit River, so it has a different source than Flint’s disastrous Flint River source. The state of Michigan has also made efforts to ensure that its water is safe from lead. For example, the Michigan Lead and Copper Rule, which was revised in June 2018, enacts the strictest testing for lead in Detroit and throughout all of Michigan. 

The city of Detroit states that water treated by the Great Lakes Water Authority doesn’t contain lead, and that water is also treated with a corrosion inhibitor to reduce leaching. But even still, lead can still enter the water supply through corrosive or dissolved old service lines, especially in homes built before 1945. Newer homes are also at risk since they may still be connected to older lead lines in the city. 

In fact, it’s estimated that there are roughly 80,000 lead service lines connected to homes in Detroit. The city is working on a 100 million dollar service line replacement program due to the sheer enormity of remaining lead lines in the city. Unfortunately, it’s estimated that it will take up to 15 years to completely replace lead service lines in the area. 


Detroit’s long history of automotive and industrial production also presents another complication: contamination from per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS). 

PFAS are a group of chemicals that have been used in a variety of manufacturing industries. They are man-made, and they also do not naturally degrade. As a result, these chemicals can stay in the environment indefinitely, ultimately contaminating the water supply. 

These “forever chemicals” are an enormous problem throughout the entire state of industrial Michigan. There are more than 11,000 known contaminated sites, 46 of those sites being groundwater locations that exceed the Environmental Protection Agency’s health advisory levels. 

It can also end up in municipal drinking water. For example, Wyandotte, a city downriver of Detroit that also gets its water from the Detroit River, saw temporary but high spikes of PFAS at a level of 49 parts per trillion, which exceeds the state’s proposed drinking water limits. 

The problem also goes beyond drinking water — these chemicals can also enter our food supply. Concerningly high levels of PFAS and PFOAS have been found in fish caught in the Detroit River

Other contaminants

Detroit uses chlorine to treat its water, a process that kills bacteria and other contaminants that can make drinkers sink. Unfortunately, the use of chlorine to treat water can also lead to contamination from disinfection byproducts

Chlorine can react with certain compounds found along the waterways, creating potentially carcinogenic compounds like haloacetic acids (HAA5) and total trihalomethanes (TTHMs). Detroit’s Water Quality Report reports the presence of both TTHMs and HAA5 in its water.

To be fair, the levels of both TTHM and HAA5 in Detroit’s tap water do not exceed actionable levels according to government standards. However, some authorities like the Environmental Working Group (EWG) believe that these standards are outdated. In fact, the EWG believes that the HAA5 in Detroit are 127 times their own health guideline. Similarly, Detroit’s TTHMs are 198 times the EWG’s health guideline. The EWG also finds that the presence of other potential carcinogens like chromium and nitrates in Detroit’s tap water exceeds what they believe to be a safe level. 

The Bottom Line: Is tap water in Detroit Michigan safe to drink? 

Technically speaking, Detroit tap water should be safe to drink since it aligns with all legal guidelines before it is distributed. However, Detroit has serious issues when it comes to remaining lead pipes in its system, as well as contamination from nearby manufacturing plants. 

So to be safe, it’s an excellent idea to run your Detroit drinking water through water filters first! A filtering water pitcher like the LARQ Bottle Filtered or a countertop solution like the LARQ Pitcher PureVis can eliminate some of the most common contaminants found in Detroit’s tap water, including lead, other heavy metals, and PFAS/PFOA.