U.S. Rep. Dan Kildee proposed tougher regulations Thursday for lead in water that would bring the country in line with safety standards the World Health Organization has adopted.

Kildee, D-Flint Township, introduced legislation that would lower the federal level for taking action on lead in water from 15 parts per billion to five parts per billion by 2026.

The proposed threshold is half the 10 parts per billion standard Gov. Rick Snyder has proposed for Michigan in the aftermath of the lead-contaminated water crisis in Flint.

Doctors and health officials contend there is no safe level of lead in drinking water, Kildee said.

“The 15 parts per billion standard is arbitrary. It’s a number that was selected,” the second-term lawmaker told The Detroit News. “And the only thing that’s going to force the issue in this country about getting serious about infrastructure is if we create standards that align with our expectations.”

Kildee’s legislation would require the 10 parts per billion threshold for lead in drinking water by 2020 and then lower the limit to five parts per billion six years later.

Under Kildee’s plan, drinking water supplies with lead levels above five parts per billion would require remediation efforts, including the costly removal of lead water service lines that run from the street into people’s homes. It faces an uphill battle in the Republican-controlled House.

“If it is our expectation that we can create infrastructure that protects public health, and prevents lead from leaching into the water and into the bodies of people, then we ought to have standards that get us there,” Kildee told The News.

Kildee’s plan calls for imposing the lower lead threshold by 2026, giving old communities across the state a decade to remove lead service lines.

“I think 10 years is a reasonable,” he said.

Nearly 1,500 water systems serving 3.3 million Americans have exceeded the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s lead cap of 15 parts per billion at least once in the past three years, according to the Associated Press.

If Snyder’s proposed 10 parts per billion lead standard were applied across the country, that number jumps to more than 2,500 systems with 18.3 million customers — a fivefold increase, according to an AP analysis of federal data.

Snyder has said he wants Michigan to adopt a higher standard this year because the Environmental Protection Agency is not scheduled to complete its updates of the federal Lead and Copper Rule until next year.

The costs of implementing Kildee and Snyder’s proposals remain unknown.

“It’s just simply a matter of will,” Kildee said. “Do we have the will, like in Congress for example, to substantially increase the amount of money going into water infrastructure? If we do, none of these goals are unattainable.”

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Twitter: @ChadLivengood

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