Advocacy group gives Michigan 'F' for removing lead in school water
An advocacy group’s report lists Michigan among 22 states to receive a failing grade for policies aimed at keeping lead out of school drinking water.
“Unfortunately, so far, most states are failing to protect children from lead in schools’ drinking water,” the report from the Environment Michigan Research & Policy Center said.
The analysis finalized last month was reviewed by academics from Harvard Medical School as well as other institutions. It evaluated laws and policies in 31 states as well as an ordinance in the District of Columbia.
The states were graded on criteria including whether schools were required to remove lead from water delivery systems, what level of lead triggers mandatory remedial action, when tests are conducted and how much information is shared with parents and the public.
The report said that “federal requirements to protect our children from lead-laced water at schools and early childhood programs are weak to non-existent. Much stronger action by state and local officials will be critical for our children’s health.”
The authors found that Michigan doesn’t require schools to conduct extensive testing for lead, although minute traces less than the federal action standard of 15 parts per billion can harm children's development.
The state has faced controversy over lead in water in recent years.
Public outcry erupted over elevated levels in Flint's water after the city switched from the Detroit system to the Flint River in April 2014. State regulators failed to ensure proper corrosion controls were added to the harsher river water, which ended up eating away at protective coatings that had formed on aging lead pipes.
Residents' initial water quality complaints were ignored by the state for more than a year before then Gov. Rick Snyder publicly acknowledged lead contamination in late September 2015.
In 2018, Detroit Public Schools Community District officials shut down drinking water fountains at all schools after several were found with excessive levels of lead and copper. The district still is installing water stations inside schools after 57 buildings showed elevated levels of lead and/or copper in the water.
The Environment Michigan report calls for a lead standard of 1 part per billion in schools as recommended by the American Academy of Pediatrics, the removal of lead service lines and extensive testing of all water in schools.
"It's long past time for Michigan to get serious about protecting our kids from lead poisoning in their water and get the lead risk out of schools and day cares," Nathan Murphy, who directs Environment Michigan, said in an email.
In a statement Monday, Gov. Gretchen Whitmer spokeswoman Tiffany Brown said Whitmer “has been laser-focused on cleaning up the state’s drinking water."
"The governor recently created the Michigan Department of Environment, Great Lakes, and Energy (formerly Michigan Department of Environmental Quality), and within that department created the Clean Water Public Advocate and Environmental Justice Public Advocate to make sure problems with drinking water are responded to quickly,” Brown said.
Brown said Whitmer’s proposed budget includes $60 million to install hydration stations in school buildings; $120 million to improve the state’s drinking water infrastructure; $37.5 million for lead and copper rule implementation; and $30 million for PFAS and emerging contaminants.