DETROIT (AP) – Longtime Detroit congressman John Conyers sent letters Friday to President Barack Obama and other officials requesting immediate action and relief regarding water shutoffs in the bankrupt city.

The Democrat seeks to stop the shutoffs affecting 4,500 customers for nonpayment. Conyers said in a statement that actions represent “an overzealous and misguided approach to cost-cutting.”

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“Regardless of the rationale for these cutoffs, the human consequences are unacceptable and unsustainable,” he said. “The failure to reinstate water service means unsanitary conditions, malnutrition and disease for babies, the sick and the elderly.”

The water department, responsible for about $6 billion of Detroit’s $18 billion in debt, is a major issue in the city’s bankruptcy. Earlier this year, the Detroit Water and Sewerage Department said it would be more assertive about delinquencies. About 46,000 shut-off notices were sent last month and service to about 10 percent of that number was recently cut.

Conyers, who also sent letters to U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Sylvia Burwell and city water department Chief Executive Sue McCormick, specifically asked for some of the $200 million available to the state through the federal Hardest Hit Fund. He also urged an “immediate end to the shutoffs” and the designation of a public health emergency that would be “eligible for direct federal relief.”

There was no immediate response from federal officials.

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The water department says about 17,000 customers are on payment plans, and officials try to work with those customers. It estimates about 90,000 active customers in are delinquent on their bills to the tune of about $90 million.

Several groups also have appealed to the United Nations for support in an effort to force the restoration of service. Three U.N. experts this week responded that the shutoffs could constitute a violation of the human right to water but what the global organization might do beyond that is unclear.

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