Editorial: Snyder plan would make Michigan the national leader in removing lead from water
Gov. Rick Snyder’s call for much tighter lead standards in Michigan will be expensive to achieve, but it is an essential investment. Responding to the Flint water crisis, the governor on Friday laid out a broad proposal to make Michigan’s limits on contaminants in drinking water far stricter than the federal mandates, and to require more rigorous testing of water in schools, day care centers, nursing homes and government meeting facilities.
It is an ambitious plan. The governor would, by 2020, trigger action when lead levels in water exceed 10 parts per billion; the federal standard is 15 parts per billion. The new levels would match Michigan to the recommendations of the World Health Organization.
To get there, Snyder would require that all municipal water systems replace every lead service line within 10 years.
He’d also mandate annual tests of water in schools and other places that serve the most vulnerable populations.
If lead levels are found to exceed the standards, water systems would have to inform their customers within 48 hours; current rules give the utilities 30 days to issue a notification.
The governor also wants mandatory disclosure of lead service lines when a building is sold or leased.
Again, none of this will be cheap. Snyder must reprioritize the budget to provide the funds for such a sweeping infrastructure fix. Few communities will have the money to replace service lines on their own. Meeting the goal will take creative financing, and may require a state-backed bond issue.
But the problem with lead in water is broader than Flint, and the governor’s response takes that into account.
Just last week, the Detroit Public Schools disclosed that 15 of its schools were found to have lead in water far in excess of the federal limits, including one building that had 100 times the acceptable level.
Across Michigan, and the country, the wave of water testing triggered by the Flint crisis is revealing a chronic problem with contaminated water.
An Associated Press analysis of EPA data found that nearly 1,400 water systems serving 3.6 million Americans exceeded the federal lead standard at least once from January 2013 through September 2015. Just a fraction of schools and day care centers nationwide are required to check for lead.
Lead is a serious issue. High levels of lead in the blood of young children can slow their development and cause permanent behavioral issues.
Some recent studies have credited lower lead tolerance standards adopted over the past 50 years for a sharp decline in national violent crime rates. Society has a strong incentive to force lead levels further downward.
Snyder has some work to do to make up for his administration’s handling of the Flint crisis. Making Michigan the national leader in combating lead in drinking water is a good step.