Lawmakers propose requiring water testing in schools

Jim Lynch
The Detroit News

Two Michigan lawmakers are proposing steps to close a loophole in lead testing underscored by the water crisis in Flint — the lack of adequate monitoring in schools.

Under the federal Lead and Copper Rule, schools across the state are not required to perform regular testing for lead in the water coming out of drinking fountains and taps. A package of bills being introduced in the Senate seeks to change the situation.

“Being the Great Lake State comes with great responsibility, and the health and welfare of Michigan residents is a top priority,” said sponsoring Sen. Rick Jones, R-Grand Ledge, in a Wednesday statement. “We must all come together to ensure that all Michigan families are protected from drinking water contamination.”

In October, a Detroit News survey of the urban districts of Detroit, Lansing and Muskegon found that their school taps and drinking fountains are not tested regularly, if ever. The school and water system officials put the testing responsibility on each other.

While utilities regularly test the water coming from their treatment plants, schools are a blind spot. Testing occurs only when school officials request it.

The issue came to the fore in October when the state found elevated levels of lead exceeding the federal safety standard in the water at three Flint public schools. The Michigan Department of Environmental Quality recommended then that the water in every school building around the state be tested.

The proposed legislation would require:

■Water providers to test samples at least once a year at schools for lead and copper.

■The creation of a Safe Schools Drinking Water Task Force to review DEQ’s testing protocols.

■The tapping of the Strategic Water Quality Initiatives Fund for the resources to pay for the expanded testing.

“This is about ensuring clean and healthy drinking water for our children — especially at school,” said Sen. Tonya Schuitmaker, R-Lawton, a co-sponsor of the package, in a press release. “It is time to act to ensure that Michigan residents can be confident that their drinking water is safe. These bills are one way to ensure proper oversight and accountability to make sure that nothing like the Flint water emergency happens again.”

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