A new bill being proposed in the Michigan Senate, Senate Bill 0063, calls for a reduction in current lead action levels in water systems. The bill’s co-sponsor is Sen. Curtis Hertel (D-East Lansing).
“What happened in Flint could happen anywhere,” Hertel said.
Senator Hertel is also the sponsor of Senate Bill 0058, which would optimize the effectiveness of the Childhood Lead Poisoning Prevention and Control Commission. This focuses on Hertel’s concern for children in the area being poisoned by lead from lead paint in old homes.
In another water-related legislation, Rep. Robert Kosowski (D-Westland) is sponsoring House Bill 4175, which seeks to create an emergency loan fund for owners and operators of public water supplies in the case of contamination or threat of contamination.
“Five decibels is where the federal government believes that kids start showing the actual symptoms of lead poisoning,” Hertel said.
Current understanding of the amount of lead in the blood of children that confirms poisoning has changed from the previous 10 decibels to five decibels. Senate Bill 0063 seeks to clarify this for the state to keep Michigan children safe by recognizing new understanding of the severity of lead exposure.
Information on lead in drinking water on the Environmental Protection Agency’s website says there is no known safe level of lead in child’s blood.
Lansing removed its last lead service line in December 2016.
In 2004, the city decided to upgrade its water supply lines in an effort to completely remove the risk of lead and other contaminants leeching into the water.
This decision drew criticism at the time as lead poisoning in children is a Michigan problem that is in many areas, including East Lansing, remains unrelated to water and instead stem from old housing stock.
This is also a nationwide problem. Homes built before 1978 are at high risk to have lead contaminants, in the paint, in the floors or even in the yard and soil beneath the home.
East Lansing mayor Mark Meadows talked about the first step in replacing lines: testing for lead. The resulting tests showed no traces of lead within East Lansing water systems at all, Meadows said.
“The city’s water pipes that would’ve been lead pipes had been replaced long ago actually,” he said, referring to a Joint Water Authority with East Lansing and Meridian Township that was created in the 1960s that saw an even earlier upgrade of the local water systems.
There was, however, lead found in non-drinking water at several elementary schools, known to be mostly the result of leeching from lead pipes used within older buildings.
“We try to address it as soon as we identify it,” Meadows said. “We went through and basically tested all the water in the city for lead, and that was really the only place we identified as having any lead in the water within the building.”
Upgrading the infrastructure was such a smooth process that many residents never noticed it was taking place.
“Almost everywhere in the state there is lead piping. Now there’s not in my community,” Hertel said. “But Lansing is a different outlier than most of the (cities) in our state.”
Despite lead contaminants, Michigan’s various city and housing infrastructures are deteriorating, which is causing numerous issues, like expected continued increases in water bill costs and old lead-contaminated housing stock.
A survey conducted by the Detroit Free Press found a severe lack of home records of water infrastructure, and concluded that there is no way to know for certain where all of the lead water lines are at in the US, leaving many Michigan cities unable to effectively test for lead as a result.
Last year, the EPA reported studies showing that the cancer-linked Erin Brockovich chemical chromium-6 was found in water supplies across the nation, including in East Lansing’s water, but not MSU’s water source.
The Saginaw sandstone aquifer that sits 400 feet below the surface serves as the Lansing area’s water source.
MSU sources its water from the same Saginaw aquifer, but treats the water itself and monitors for contamination through its Wellhead Protection Program.
The EPA estimates a $384 billion cost by 2030 to provide safe drinking water to all U.S. cities, and the American Water Works Association calculated $1 trillion in costs through 25 years.
“I think we should be doing everything we can to fix those lines, starting in Flint, but branching out across the state,” Hertel said. “We see the roads and how bad they are, but what’s crumbling underneath them is even worse.”
Hertel described other surprisingly outdated infrastructure issues, citing areas that still have wood pipelines in the ground, and Hertel said even toilets couldn’t be flushed during the Super Bowl because of the high volume of use on Macomb County’s water infrastructure.
“Now obviously technology’s gotten better than that, but we haven’t made the investment,” he said.
Michigan needs to modernize and make its various infrastructures, like water pipelines and roads, safe, but it will need to secure an adequate source of revenue in order to do so.
Hertel said he wants to know where the state plans to get money to fix these issues, and the recent income tax cut proposal caused him concern for Michigan.
Yet Hertel said he believes targeted tax reforms could help solve funding woes, citing the fact that Michigan has lower taxes on corporations than individuals.
“We’re all paying more," Hertel said. "I don’t see any of us getting results for it.”