News Feature | March 7, 2018

Michigan Crafting Nation's Toughest Lead Rule

Sara Jerome

By Sara Jerome,

detroit reg new

Michigan is moving to create the toughest rule in the country for lead in drinking water.

“The Michigan Department of Environmental Quality is moving forward with proposed changes to the lead and copper rule. If approved, Michigan would hold the toughest regulations on lead in drinking water in the nation. Among the policy revisions is a motion to lower the acceptable lead level in a community’s tap water. If the law passes, the ‘action level’ of 15 parts per billion (ppb) of lead would drop to 10 ppb,” Michigan Radio reported.

Chris Kolb, president of the Michigan Environmental Council, explained the desire to lower the limit.

”Though no amount lead is safe in water, reducing that down is going to be very important,” he said, per the report.

Michigan officials have come under fire in recent years in what is widely acknowledged as their inadequate response to the Flint lead-contamination crisis. The crisis resulted in criminal prosecution of state officials. Flint’s lead crisis left hundreds of children with high blood lead levels.

Changing the lead limit is just one part of the current push toward regulatory revision.

The revision also “includes requiring that communities test for lead and copper annually rather than every three years. But the most controversial change to the current policy is a move to require every city in the state to replace every lead line, in full, at the expense of its water system,” Michigan Radio reported.

Critics say replacing every lead line is too expensive.

“Chuck Hersey, a consultant working on this issue for Oakland County, believes the rules are not a productive, or cost efficient, means to reducing exposure to lead. The $3,000-$5,000 lead line replacement is unnecessary, Hersey believes, if it’s not a currently identified problem,” the report said.

As far as the update to lead rules, some wish the state would do more than it is.

“Many Flint activists and environmentalists say the proposed changes to lead rules don’t go far enough. Others, especially those running community water systems, say changes go way too far, presenting major legal and cost issues,” Michigan Radio reported.

Flint’s crisis followed the city’s switch from the Detroit water supply to Flint River water. When Flint changed sources, it became responsible for its own treatment processes. The city has since returned to Detroit water provided by the Great Lakes Water Authority.

The federal government is considering moves to update its lead rules, as well. Calling for a war on lead as a new feature of federal policy, U.S. EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt is working with Cabinet officials on reforms aimed at keeping children safe from lead contamination, The Washington Examiner reported.

Image credit: "downtown detroit," barbara eckstein © 2011, used under an Attribution 2.0 Generic license: