Whitmer, EGLE want EPA to toughen water lead rules

    Flint River | Susan J. Demas

    Gov. Gretchen Whitmer and Environment, Great Lakes and Energy (EGLE) Director Liesl Clark sent a letter to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), asking it to follow Michigan’s lead in regulating lead presence in drinking water. 

    In the letter, Whitmer and Clark asked EPA Director Andrew Wheeler to consider lowering the national action level for lead in drinking water. In 2019, the President Trump administration proposed changes to the EPA’s Lead and Copper Rule, a federal regulation that limits lead and copper concentrations allowed in a consumer’s tap water. It marked the first overhaul to the rule since 1991, when it was established. 

    Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, Jan. 30, 2019 | Susan J. Demas

    The proposed changes to the rule don’t lower the lead action level, which is currently at 15 parts per billion (ppb). Instead, cities would be required to evaluate their water treatment processes when their water reaches a 10 ppb “trigger” level. 

    But keeping the lead action level at 15 ppb is only a regulatory measure — researchers and public health experts say there is no “safe” amount of lead one can consume. The proposed changes to the rule would also cut the pace of lead service line replacement to less than half the current rate.

    Michigan has the strongest-in-the-nation Lead and Copper Rule (LCR) that aims to minimize said substances in the state’s drinking water, established after the Flint water crisis. The LCR lowers action levels for lead from 15 ppb to 12 ppb on Jan. 1, 2025. It also calls for replacing lead service lines and pipes in the state, and it bans only partial replacement of lines.

    “We urge the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to follow our state’s lead in lowering the Action Level for lead in drinking water,” Whitmer and Clark wrote. “The addition of a ‘Trigger Level’ is confusing to water supplies and the public, complicates already complicated requirements, and, importantly, does not go far enough to protect public health.”

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    Whitmer and Clark wrote they are “encouraged” by the Trump administration’s decision to make changes, but added the proposed rule doesn’t do enough to strengthen regulations. 

    “Unfortunately, this proposed rule weakens protections by slowing the replacement of lead service lines and failing to strengthen public health safeguards,” they wrote. “The lead service line replacement rules also create an environmental justice issue where those with resources can get their entire lead service line replaced sooner while the poorest and most vulnerable will have to wait.”

    Congress in 1974 passed the Safe Drinking Water Act, which tasked the EPA with putting safe drinking water standards in place across the country. Michigan passed its own variation of the act in 1976, which gave the state control over its drinking water standards. 

    In 2018, the Michigan Safe Drinking Water Act (MSDWA) was revised to increase testing and detection standards for lead, under former Gov. Rick Snyder and the Michigan Legislature. The Flint water crisis lent attention to toxic levels of lead in drinking water and established stricter water quality standards. 

    C.J. Moore
    C.J. Moore covers the environment and the Capitol. She previously worked at NASA’s Glenn Research Center in Cleveland as a public affairs staff science writer. She also previously covered crop sustainability and coal pollution issues for Great Lakes Echo. In addition, she served as editor in chief at The State News and covered its academics and research beat. She studies environment journalism and film at Michigan State University.