Experts: Michigan residents should know if homes have lead pipelines

Leonard N. Fleming
The Detroit News
Elin  Betanzo is principal at the Safe Water Engineering consulting firm in Oakland County.

Lead contamination is a potential problem outside of Flint, so Michigan residents should be vigilant to make sure to protect their water, two experts said Thursday.

The comments were made Thursday in Detroit at the annual Great Lakes conference as an environmental lawyer and a water engineer discussed how to ensure the government complies with the federal lead and copper rules to protect drinking water consumers.

The experts spoke at the Great Lakes Coalition's 14th annual Great Lakes Conference in Detroit that featured two days of in-workshops and discussions about everything from PFAS chemical contamination and algae blooms to environmental justice issues.

The panelists discussed action plans to force compliance with the federal government's 1991 Lead and Copper rule. Federal officials have been considering updating the rule, while Michigan is to set lower state action level for lead to 12 parts per billion by 2025, down from the federal standard of 15 ppb. 

"I think people need to be aware that there's lead in their plumbing and they can have lead in their drinking water," said Elin Betanzo, the principal of Safe Water Engineering LLC in Oakland County. "It's not just a Flint thing."

There are thousands of sources of contamination in lead lines across the state, said Nicholas Leonard, a staff attorney for the Great Lakes Environmental Law Center. This creates a challenge to "make sure that everyone has safe, drinking water."

"I think it's necessary to invest in that solution now. You have to do it at some point," he said. "It's the only way to make sure we are getting lead levels down to a level that's safe, which is zero."

Michigan's new rules, prompted by former Gov. Rick Snyder in the wake of the Flint water crisis, directs communities to replace all lead service lines by 2040.

The failure to properly treat river water in Flint prompted the lead contamination crisis because aging water service lines leached lead, causing a problem across the city.

"The biggest thing is getting educated and knowing if you have a lead service line in your home because that's when you're very high risk," Betanzo said. "If you have a lead service line, you should be treating it as an urgent issue."

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