Whitmer admin. pledges ‘transparency’ on clean water

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Just days after signing a spending bill that allocates $3 million to implement new drinking water rules, Gov. Gretchen Whitmer says she wants the public to be informed about the dangers of lead pipes.

Like other initiatives Whitmer has undertaken in her first year in office, this new awareness campaign has its roots in the Flint water crisis. 

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer talks about a public safety campaign on water safety, July 26, 2019 | Nick Manes

At a news conference on Wednesday in Lansing, Whitmer and members of her administration announced the new campaign that coincides with new testing rules. Among them is a measure that mandates lead samples are pulled from both the first and fifth liters of water drawn. 

Doing so, the state says, will allow for finding lead “farther upstream” in household drinking water supplies. State officials also said they’re aware of the challenges that arise from lead-based paint in older homes and are seeking to address those issues, as well. 

“These improvements enact best-in-the-nation protections against lead in our state’s drinking water through new testing and detection standards,” said Liesl Clark, director of the state’s Department of Environment, Great Lakes and Energy (EGLE). “Our goal is to reduce and ultimately eliminate lead pipes used for drinking water.”

As part of the state’s new campaign, it has launched a new website that officials say will be used to provide citizens with information on the dangers of lead poisoning, which can affect mental and physical development and can be fatal at high levels. 

Utilities fight Michigan’s post-Flint lead regulation

Whitmer told reporters that the site also will be used to post lead testing results. 

“The state is committed to remaining proactive and transparent when it comes to addressing [lead testing],” Whitmer said on Wednesday. “And will work closely with local water authorities to rapidly respond to any test results showing high lead levels, including enforcing steps to lower levels that are required by law.”

EGLE Director Liesl Clark, July 26, 2019 | Nick Manes

Environmental advocates quickly praised Whitmer’s new campaign, stressing that the posting of accurate testing results will lead to better outcomes. 

“While the more accurate sampling system under the new Lead and Copper Rule could reveal higher lead levels in water systems across the state, they do not indicate a change or worsening of drinking water quality,” Charlotte Jameson, policy and legislative affairs director for the Michigan Environmental Council, said in a statement. 

“Accurate samples are evidence of our strengthened protections working as intended and ensuring that our water systems and our state and local governments have the quality information needed to protect public health from lead in drinking water,” Jameson said. 

Given the new testing requirements, the Michigan chapter of the American Waterworks Association noted in a statement that water infrastructure can vary greatly from home to home. The organization added that private wells are not part of the new testing rules and are the responsibility of the homeowner. 

While much of the Whitmer administration’s efforts are focused on old lead pipes, such as what created the Flint water crisis, officials also say they’re working on new efforts to combat lead-based paint in older homes. 

Grand Rapids faces costly lingering lead crisis in homes

As the Advance has previously reported, cities like Grand Rapids with an older housing stock face long-term challenges and scores of lead-poisoned children due to paint. 

Robert Gordon, director of the Department of Health and Human Services, said the agency is working with the federal government remediate those homes that contain lead before it gets into the bloodstream of children. 

Asked what kind of resources the state might be able to tap into in order to alleviate the lead paint issue, Gordon demurred at this time. 

“More soon; more soon,” Gordon said.

Nick Manes
Nick Manes covers West Michigan, business and labor, health care and the safety net. He previously spent six years as a reporter at MiBiz covering commercial real estate, economic development and all manner of public policy at the local and state levels. His byline also has appeared in Route Fifty and The Daily Beast. When not reporting around the state or furiously tweeting, he enjoys spending time with his girlfriend, Krista, biking around his hometown of Grand Rapids and torturing himself rooting for the Detroit Lions.

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