Snyder plans renewed push for stricter lead water limit

Jim Lynch, and Michael Gerstein

Gov. Rick Snyder’s proposal 10 months ago to give Michigan the nation’s toughest water quality standard has yet to come to fruition, but movement on the issue could be coming soon.

In April, a month after testifying during a congressional hearing on the Flint water crisis, Snyder said he intended to enact lead-in-water standards that would be more strict than those required by federal law. In particular, he called for Michigan to lower the action level for the toxic substance from 15 parts per billion — set by the federal Lead and Copper Rule — to 10 parts per billion.

“The federal law is dumb and dangerous and the point is to set a higher standard faster,” Snyder said at the time.

Little legislative action has since taken place, but the governor reaffirmed Friday that legislation is in the works.

“Well, it’s not languishing,” Snyder said. “It’s gonna be introduced in the new session. So I don’t see any issue or problem at all at this point in time.

“They had a full session last year, so we actually consciously decided to wait for the new session to make sure it was fully vetted and thought out. I’m looking forward to its introduction in the next week or two.”

The governor’s initial proposal last touched on many public health and safety issues. The proposed changes included:

■Public alerts to schools, community centers and day cares when lead levels in the building’s water exceed the 10 parts-per-billion threshold.

■Water utility systems would have to inform customers of high lead levels within two days of testing instead of the current requirement of 30 days. The state would provide blood tests for residents in homes with lead levels in the water exceeding 40 parts per billion.

■Mandatory disclosure that a home contains a lead water service line in housing sales and rental contracts.

■Creation of fines for violating the state’s lead and copper regulation rules.

Legislators and environmental groups said they believe Snyder’s administration will follow through on its promise to get the more exacting standard passed into law. Senate Minority Leader Jim Ananich, whose represents Flint residents and proposed his own lead legislation in January, anticipates the governor’s proposals will touch on action levels.

Snyder needs to strike while the environmental and public health issues raised in the Flint crisis still resonate with the public, Ananich said.

Flint has been dealing with health and safety issues since April 2014, when the city stopped getting its drinking water from the Detroit water system and began drawing it from the Flint River. A failure to properly treat that water, while the city was under the control of a Snyder-appointed emergency manager, is blamed for the resulting lead poisoning and an outbreak of Legionnaires’ disease that sickened 91 individuals in the Flint area and killed 12.

“A lot of what we’ve seen in the last year has amounted to a big splash about what we’re going to do and the less energy spent on getting it done,” Ananich said.

Flint returned to its traditional water provider, the Detroit Water and Sewerage Department, late in October 2015, but the system has been slow to recover. Last month, testing showed the city’s water had passed a key milestone.

“The good news is that this most recent six-month monitoring period, from July 1 to the end of last year, the 90th percentile value was 12 parts per billion (for lead),” Bryce Feighner, chief of the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality’s Office of Drinking Water and Municipal Assistance, told a Flint task force meeting in January. “So that is now below the action level of 15 parts per billion.”

Many Michigan cities would likely be unable to immediately adopt to a stricter 10-parts-per-billion standard, requiring a grace period or delayed implementation. It also may require many communities to address major infrastructure issues, such as lead pipeline replacement.

But James Clift, policy director for the Michigan Environmental Council, said the key accomplishment of reintroducing Snyder’s legislation would be to get the conversation started on addressing those issues.

“I think he’s committed to elevating the issue and starting to get the information out there,” Clift said.

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