Lead filter funding will protect 1.5 million children
Gov. Gretchen Whitmer on Thursday recommended a $55 million appropriation in grants for schools to install and maintain filtered water fountains with bottle fillers and, in some cases, on-tap filters. With this proposed funding, nearly 1.5 million children and tens of thousands of adults are one step closer being better protected against lead from their school’s drinking water.
This “Filter First” approach, which is based on the Natural Resources Defense Council’s model legislation, is the most health-protective, cost-effective and immediate way to remove lead from school drinking water. The approach is advocated for by a coalition of environmental, health and education organizations and leaders.
The Filter First coalition worked with two Republican and Democratic Michigan Legislators to introduce a bill package in 2019 to ensure filter installation and maintenance in all public schools and daycares. Senate Minority Leader Jim Ananich (D-Flint) and Sen. Curt VanderWall (R-Ludington), chair of the Health Policy and Human Services Committee, will introduce a similar package this year.
Children are particularly vulnerable to lead exposure in our schools. Water sits stagnant in pipes during weekends and vacations, which dilutes the effectiveness of corrosion control chemicals. These chemicals prevent most lead from pipes leaching into drinking water. COVID-19 school shutdowns make lead leaching even more acute and Filter First funding even more pressing.
“If the Legislature approves Filter First funding and the legislation to implement it, Michigan will set a national example as the first state to protect our children from lead in drinking water with this approach,” said Charlotte Jameson, program director for Michigan Environmental Council. “Our schools face huge challenges, but protecting kids from lead is one we can cost-effectively address. We thank Gov. Whitmer and our bipartisan bill sponsors Sen. Vanderwall and Minority Leader Ananich for championing this critical public health protection. We look forward to getting Filter First across the finish line with them and other decision makers. “
“There is no safe lead level according to the American Academy of Pediatrics and the National Association of Pediatric Nurse Practitioners,” said Rhonda Conner-Warren, PhD, RN, CPNP-PC, assistant professor of health programs at Michigan State University’s College of Nursing. “Our practice goals are to see that every child’s growth and development potential is maximized. We thank Gov. Whitmer’s support of the Filter First campaign in the prevention of any further lead ingestion through water systems in locations where children spend the most time in schools settings.”
“Lead in drinking water hurts children's health as they grow and later in life,” said Jamie Brown, RN, president of the Michigan Nurses Association. “The Governor's plan will help prevent the neurological and other damage that harms far too many of our children. Nurses applaud the Governor for supporting this forward-thinking initiative.”
"Gov. Whitmer is taking a proactive approach to protecting kids’ health by providing essential grants and funding to schools to ensure kids have safe, clean water to drink,” said Nick Occhipinti, government affairs director for Michigan League of Conservation Voters. “We can’t wait when it comes to protecting children’s developing brains from toxic lead and other contaminants. Step one is to get this funding in place; step two requires lawmakers to pass Filter First legislation to ensure schools take protective measures for their students to make sure they have safe water to drink.”
“Schools should be safe environments for kids in every way, but too many school drinking water fountains deliver lead with every sip," said Cyndi Roper, Michigan senior policy advocate for the Natural Resources Defense Council. "By prioritizing safe school water for kids, Governor Whitmer’s budget request and the pending bipartisan Filter First legislation, deserve a gold star for protecting Michigan’s children."
Other advocates working to advance Filter First policy include the American Civil Liberties Union of Michigan; the Ecology Center; the Great Lakes Environmental Law Center; the Sierra Club Michigan Chapter; Elin Betanzo, founder of Safe Water Engineering; Abigail A. Dumes, PhD, assistant professor of women’s and gender studies at the University of Michigan; and Patrick Kelly, public health professional.
Click here for an overview of the Filter First campaign’s model legislation
Click here for the Filter First campaign’s fact sheet on cost