Cleaner water is coming to all schools

Lead levels are harmful in many locations. They soon won’t be.

Thousands of Michigan children are at risk of lead poisoning. They'll soon be protected at the places where they spend much of their days.

On Thursday, Gov. Gretchen Whitmer signed into law “Filter First” legislation: three bills that will require the installation of lead water filters in all schools and childcare centers. Costs will be offset by $50 million dollars set aside (so far) in the state budget.

The legislation passed with strong bipartisan support in the Michigan Legislature. They were sponsored by Sen. Sylvia Santana (D-Detroit), Rep. Ranjeev Puri (D-Canton Township) and Rep. Cynthia Neeley (D-Flint).

“Michigan lawmakers have just enacted the nation's strongest measures protecting kids from lead in school and childcare centers," said Cyndi Roper, Michigan senior policy advocate for NRDC. "These bills implement a solution that actually gets lead out of drinking water while also realizing dramatic cost savings over other approaches.”

Kids at a Flint school pose for the camera.The legisation's passage comes after a nationwide Environment America report gave Michigan an F grade for its efforts to remove lead from school drinking water. With "Filter First" legislation becoming law, the ranking would be boosted to an A.

Research by Elin Betanzo, president and founder of Safe Water Engineering LLC, revealed that 89% of the 114 schools and childcare facilities that voluntarily submitted water samples to the state had dangerous amounts of lead in them.

Lead stunts mental, physical, and social development. Young children, whose minds and bodies are growing most, are especially at risk. No amount of lead is safe.

"There has not been a bigger moment in the lead poisoning fight since lead paint was banned 45 years ago," said Charlotte Jameson, chief policy officer for the Michigan Environmental Council. "Momentum is on our side. We can make lead poisoning history, not current reality."

The legislation's passage comes as other transformational lead prevention efforts are realized. Gov. Whitmer also approved the widely bipartisan effort to get all toddlers routinely tested for lead poisoning, and legislation to get more homes tested and treated for lead contamination is moving through the political process.

More on the ‘Filter First’ method

A sign at an Ann Arbor elementary school warns people not to drink the tap water. (Photo courtesy of Midstory)The filters in schools and childcare centers will prevent lead found in fountains and taps from leaching into the water children and staff drink. Lead leaching is possible in water fixtures new and old and is especially prevalent in those left unused for long periods of time. That makes schools and childcare centers, with their many breaks and weekend closures, especially prone to lead contamination.

The policy within the legislation, dubbed "Filter First," is more effective than replacing water infrastructure outright because even new plumbing contains lead. It is also hundreds of millions of dollars cheaper and much faster to implement, according to an analysis prepared by NRDC for the Filter First Coalition, a 40-member group that has advocated for such policies for over five years.

"Michigan school water data shows that 89% of sampled buildings found detectable lead in their water," said Betanzo of Safe Water Engineering. "Since Birmingham Public Schools switched its drinking water to all filter stations, there hasn't been any lead in any of their filtered water samples. The Filter First law ensures that all drinking water in Michigan schools and childcare centers will be filtered, improving water quality at more than 3,000 schools statewide and achieving results just like Birmingham."

For more perspectives from the Filter First Coalition, click here.
To meet the full Filter First Coalition, click here.

Help us make 2023 the year that ends lead poisoning

The Michigan Environmental Council has been a leader in lead poisoning prevention for over 13 years. We organize the Michigan Alliance for Lead Safe Homes, which is powered by healthcare professionals is parents.

While our top priority—universal lead testing—is close to becoming law, we're turning our effort to making sure it's implemented properly. We're also advocating for legislation to get more homes tested and treated for lead and to install filters in all schools and childcare centers.

Your gift of any size will support our staff's capacity to continue organizing, educating, and supporting good policy and great groups of people. 


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  • Beau Brockett
    published this page in News 2023-10-20 10:25:14 -0400