The Detroit radio station, WDET 101.9, invited me to talk about Dr. Mona Hanna-Attisha’s book “What the Eye’s Don’t See,” the Flint Water Crisis, and the Michigan Lead and Copper Rule on Detroit Today with Stephen Henderson. This interview explains how I was able to bring visibility and recognition to the Flint Water Crisis based on my experience when I worked at EPA during the lead crisis in Washington, DC. It also explains how the Michigan Lead and Copper Rule provides better public health protection than the federal Lead and Copper Rule. Click here to take a listen.
The revised Michigan Lead and Copper Rule became effective in June 2018. Right now, water utilities in Michigan are collecting lead samples using new sampling protocols and are working on their Preliminary Distribution System Materials Inventories. Do you want to learn more about the federal and Michigan Lead and Copper Rules? This webinar includes presentations from Dr. Yanna Lambrinidou on the federal LCR, and Elin Betanzo of Safe Water Engineering, LLC on the Michigan LCR. Take a look and see how the Michigan LCR improves public health protection compared to the federal rule.
The principal law that regulates drinking water safety is the Safe Drinking Water Act (SDWA). The SDWA provides a comprehensive set of water quality standards, enforcement authority, and reporting requirements for water systems that provide water to the public. Like other environmental laws that follow the cooperative federalism model, the federal government provides states the opportunity to implement the law themselves. The SDWA provides minimum standards that states can either adopt or improve on. In other words, the SDWA acts as the federal floor; any state that wishes to implement it must do so at least as protectively as the federal government, but can have as high a ceiling as it wishes.
Safe Water Engineering, LLC assisted American Rivers and the Great Lakes Environmental Law Center in writing this report that details how the great lakes states have chosen to implement the federal SDWA and adopt additional requirements that add protections beyond those required by the SDWA.
Questions about Michigan’s new Lead and Copper Rule? Fear not. UM project partners have created a FAQ page for some of the most important questions that consumers, public officials, and water utilities have. This information on the Lead and Copper Rule is focused on Michigan but relevant nationally. Dig into the questions you've always wanted to ask and the questions you just now realize you should be asking.
We don’t have any national requirements for ensuring lead-free drinking water in schools and child cares, and many of our school buildings contain older plumbing materials with high lead content. Even brand new fittings and fixtures can contain up to 0.25% lead even though they are marked “lead free.” Since there is no safe level of lead exposure, it is critically important to provide a reliable source of safe drinking water in our schools and child cares as our children’s brains are developing.
To make up for this gap in federal regulations, I assisted a team that put together model legislation for providing reliable drinking water in our schools and child cares. In a nutshell, lead is in the majority of our plumbing. Filter first, then test to make sure the filters are working. Continuing this endless cycle of sampling and finding lead in the water does not end up providing a reliable source of safe water. Take a look and try getting this passed in your state.
Michigan adopted a revised Lead and Copper Rule in June of 2018. It is a notable rule because it is the only Lead and Copper Rule in the country that puts all water utilities on a path to fully replace all lead service lines within the next 20 years. But there is a lot more going on in this rule that will improve the way public water supplies manage their water systems, improve the water quality and infrastructure data they collect, and provide more complete and timely information about the risks of lead in drinking water.
Because there is a lot going on in there, I worked with my project team at the University of Michigan to produce this infographic explaining what is new in the revised Michigan rule and why the changes were made. There is a single sheet 11x17 version and a more detailed 5 page 8.5x11 version that provides more explanation for each of 5 major changes. We will be rolling out more information through this project, so if you are looking for more information about the Michigan Lead and Copper Rule, browse our project website and keep coming back for more.
There is lead in almost all our plumbing. Even "lead free" plumbing contains up to 0.25% lead, and prior to 2014 materials marked "lead free" could contain up to 8% lead. So we know there is lead in most school plumbing. We also know that schools have irregular water use patterns. Weekends with no one in the building, long breaks, and long summers with little water use. When fresh water does not run through the pipes, corrosion control doesn't get a chance to work when it is used in water treatment. That means that when there is lead in the plumbing in schools, there is usually lead in the water. So I wasn't surprised when lead was measured in the water at my childrens' school. I knew we were lucky to have one filtered water bottle filling station at the school. I send my kids to school each day with a refillable water bottle, and they fill it up at school filter station whenever they need more.
It was a great opportunity to work with Dave Woodward and Dr. Mona Hanna-Attisha to acquire 650 filter stations in Oakland County. Now my kids' school will have two filter stations and schools across the county will have the option to have safer water. The filters will have to be replaced according to the manufacturer's instructions, but they have a counter that shows when the filter needs to be replaced. It's not a bad idea to test the filtered water periodically to verify that the filters are performing according to their certification. With these new stations available, all students, faculty, and staff should be directed to drink water at the filter stations. All other taps should be designated for hand washing and other non-potable uses. Once students adjust to this culture change of only using filter stations, we can stop sampling at all the non-drinking water taps and focus only on those that students and staff are using for drinking.
Great job Oakland County. While providing safer, more reliable drinking water quality we can also keep plastic bottles out of the recycling bins and landfills.
The State of Michigan revised its Lead and Copper Rule on June 14, 2018. The new rule will require water utilities to inventory all service lines and replace lead and galvanized service lines from the water main in the street to inside the customer's home. This is a big step forward that will improve infrastructure management and public health protection as water utilities improve their records, residents receive improved communications about the risk of lead in drinking water, and a future without lead pipes is closer to reality. My op-ed explaining the importance of the revised Lead and Copper Rule can be found here at Bridge Magazine.
After Hurricane Maria hit Puerto Rico in September of 2017, it took months before public water systems had electricity restored and were able to distribute safe drinking water to the public again. This public health emergency highlighted several opportunities to provide more reliable information to the public about the status of their drinking water during a natural disaster. This journal article in Environmental Health Reports provides several recommendations for improving the Public Notification Rule under the Safe Drinking Water Act based on experiences in Puerto Rico in the aftermath of Hurricane Maria. These include:
Defining a “waterborne emergency” as anytime when the Secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services declares a Public Health Emergency and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has confirmed there are potential impacts to drinking water quality, thus triggering the requirements of the Public Notification Rule.
Requiring Primacy Agencies to report to the EPA and track all public water systems issuing public notifications following a waterborne emergency to facilitate identification of water systems that may need recovery assistance.
Requiring public water systems to perform water quality sampling and analysis with a certified laboratory to demonstrate that water quality meets pre-disaster conditions prior to rescinding public notice.
Requiring water quality sampling based on potential hazards identified in the public water system’s source water assessments and other potential hazards identified following the waterborne emergency, even if the water system qualified for reduced monitoring prior to the emergency.
Requiring primacy agencies to continue tracking public notice and update the status of public water systems until all have returned to service following water quality sampling and analysis.
These updates to the Public Notification Rule would increase the public’s knowledge about their drinking water quality during a waterborne emergency. They will also allow for state, territorial, and federal governments to better assess and provide the resources needed to ensure public water systems are recovering from the waterborne emergency. Wide scale reporting on the status of drinking water supplied by public water systems during the disaster recovery phase will increase public confidence in the safety of drinking water while protecting the population from widespread disease.
Click here for the article https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007%2Fs40572-018-0200-5
The Lead and Copper Rule Is Not a Health Based Rule
The Detroit News published an editorial about drinking water quality in Flint, Michigan on April 15, 2018 that repeats some common misunderstandings of the Lead and Copper Rule that can perpetuate the lack of trust in state leaders who did not take basic steps to prevent lead poisoning from the city’s water supply starting in 2014. It is true that lead levels in the water in Flint now are the same as for other cities that are in compliance with the federal Lead and Copper Rule, but this does not mean that families can drink their water without fear.
The Lead and Copper Rule is a drinking water regulation designed to measure corrosion control effectiveness. A water system exceeds the lead action level for drinking water when the 90th percentile of lead samples collected exceeds 15 ppb for lead. A lead action level exceedance indicates that corrosion control is not effective for reducing lead in enough homes, and as a result additional steps are required to address lead in drinking water. The way Lead and Copper Rule compliance is calculated, 10% of sampled homes can have any level of lead whatsoever and the water system can still meet the lead action level.
The Lead and Copper Rule clearly states that the safe level for lead in drinking water is 0 ppb. This is called the Maximum Contaminant Level Goal for lead. Even if your water system is below the lead action level, it does not mean there is no risk of lead exposure in your home. It means that if you have sources of lead in your plumbing, current treatment is providing some control of lead release. The sampling protocol required under the federal Lead and Copper Rule does not tell you whether your water is safe to drink.
The lead service line replacement program in Flint is ongoing. Every home with a confirmed or suspected lead or galvanized service line must continue using filters to assure that lead has been removed from the water before cooking or drinking, especially in areas where lead service line replacements shake the ground on a daily basis. In addition, data collected in Flint show that many homes have detectable lead in their drinking water, including homes that do not currently have a lead service line. Lead solder and plumbing fittings and fixtures containing lead can continue to leach lead even when the lead service line is gone. Both lead service lines and household plumbing were damaged by inadequate corrosion control while Flint delivered poorly treated water from the Flint River.
Given the sustained increase in lead exposure via drinking water in Flint and the fact that lead exposure is cumulative, it is not enough to assure the residents of Flint that they are no worse off than other older cities in the United States. Flint residents now have a body burden of lead that cannot be removed, so they must remain even more vigilant about their future lead exposure than those who have not been drinking the water in Flint. The two most effective strategies for this are using lead removing filters or bottled water. Any blanket statement that in Flint, “families can drink their water without fear” without mentioning the ongoing risk of lead exposure at individual homes and the need for lead removing filters or bottled water is misleading and will continue to harm the residents of Flint.
The Village of Beverly Hills, Michigan exceeded the lead action level as a result of compliance sampling completed in summer 2017. While the high lead level measured does not indicate wide spread risk in Beverly Hills, it demonstrates that homes with lead service lines are at increased risk of exposure to lead in drinking water. Articles posted at Michigan Radio by Lindsey Smith provide a good summary of what happened:
The Lead and Copper Rule has regulated lead in drinking water since 1991, yet there are still serious data gaps and shortcomings in the way we work to eliminate the risk of lead exposure in drinking water.
This report was prepared to provide funders in the Great Lakes region with an overview of critical issues surrounding lead in drinking water and specific strategies that could be used to address those issues and reduce lead exposure through drinking water. These topics are presented as a series of issue briefs that describe challenges, data gaps, and opportunities for reducing the risk of exposure to lead in drinking water and for increasing community involvement in decisions affecting drinking water. As shown in these issue briefs there are many ways in which highly varied organizations can make progress in reducing the risk of exposure, including:
- Legal, scientific, and policy research
- Technical Assistance
- Public Education, and
- Community Organizing.
Removing lead from drinking water will be a long-term effort that requires patience and persistence from many players, as well as political and public will to dedicate the resources and attention this issue deserves.
Download the full report here.
House Bill 4205 would make it harder to pass a regulation in Michigan that is stricter than a federally mandated standard. This means if a federal rule isn’t providing the protection we want here in Michigan, we may not be able to address that with improved state regulation.
There are water quality issues that are important here in Michigan that aren’t getting the same attention at the federal level. For example, algal toxins are a serious concern from harmful algal blooms. A harmful algal bloom shut down the Toledo water system in 2014, along with some of Michigan. There is no federal standard for microcystin. We have per- and polyfluroroalkyl substances in the drinking water here in Michigan and there is no federal standard. This bill will make it more difficult for Michigan to take protective measures when the federal EPA is not.
Some people say that HB 4205 includes an exception where the director of an agency can determine there is a clear and convincing need to exceed the applicable federal standard. This exception does not fix my concerns about the bill. First, new water quality data that are not being collected today may be necessary to establish a clear and convincing need to exceed the applicable federal standard. If collecting that water data is not required at the federal level, then it can’t be required at the state level if this bill is passed. That would prevent the agency from being able to establish the clear and convincing need to exceed the federal standard.
Second, this bill adds another barrier to passing regulations at the time when they are needed most: when a critical need is identified that is not being addressed at the federal level. The Michigan Administrative Procedures Act already has a complex series of analyses and committee approvals that must be completed before a new rule can be passed. One advantage of the state rulemaking process is that it can be more responsive than the federal process to immediate needs. The EPA typically takes a minimum of 9 years to finalize and implement a new drinking water regulation. If there is a specific risk that we identify here in Michigan that needs to be addressed quickly, the last thing we need is another set of hoops to jump through.
Finally, Michigan needs to keep the ability to take these actions through regulation because our legislators have proven that they are not able to act on critical issues facing our state. We cannot let our dysfunctional state legislature destroy our natural resources and public health.
See the article and news clip from ABC12 in Flint:
A bill now under consideration in Lansing, House Bill 4205, could prohibit Michigan from adopting any rule more stringent than the federal standard. Please read about why this is bad for Michigan: http://www.detroitnews.com/story/opinion/2017/12/25/column-undermine-water/108916954/
On July 13, 2017 Senator Tammy Duckworth, D-IL, invited Elin Betanzo of Safe Water Engineering to speak at a round table hosted by the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee titled "Drinking Water: A Crisis in Every State." A recording of the discussion is available here.