Flint-Inspired Law Forces Faster Public Notice About Contaminated Water
By Paul Egan
Gov. Rick Snyder visited Flint Friday and signed legislation that will require Michigan communities to be notified much more quickly than Flint was about elevated lead levels in their drinking water.
Friday's bill signing marks the first policy change signed into state law as a result of the Flint water crisis.
"This bill is an important first step," Snyder said in a hall at Grace Emmanuel Baptist Church. "This is about dealing with the tragic crisis we've suffered through."
Snyder said "there's more work to be done" in making Flint a better place to live, both in terms of safe water, and economically.
House Bill 5120, sponsored by state Rep. Sheldon Neeley, D-Flint, requires municipal water systems, upon learning their water has exceeded the federal "action level" for lead, to notify the public within three business days.
Under current law, public notice of such a violation must happen "as soon as practical," but within no more than 30 days, according to a House Fiscal Agency analysis of the legislation.
A lack of public notice was among the many problems that contributed to a public health crisis after Flint's drinking water became contaminated with lead following a switch to the Flint River for its drinking water supply in April 2014, while the city was under the control of a state-appointed emergency manager.
Despite almost immediate complaints about the color, odor and taste of the water, the state did not acknowledge a lead contamination problem until about Oct. 1, 2015, long after tests showed elevated lead levels in tap water samples and other tests showed a spike in toxic lead levels in the blood of Flint children.
Neeley said the bill will help prevent other Michigan communities from going through what Flint experienced. Among others, he thanked Snyder as "my friend and partner in this legislation."
The DEQ has acknowledged it made a significant error when it failed to require the addition of corrosion control chemicals at the Flint Water Treatment Plant, which treated the Flint River water for public consumption. Previously, Flint received Lake Huron water treated by the Detroit water system, which used corrosion control chemicals. Flint River water is more corrosive than Lake Huron water, causing lead to leach from pipes, joints and fixtures into the water supply.
Under current law, the federal action level for lead is exceeded if more than 10% of tap water samples from at-risk homes show lead levels of 15 parts per billion or higher. Snyder and many other officials say a lower action level is needed to better protect the public from lead poisoning.
"We need to change those levels," Snyder said Friday. "We need to have stricter standards."
State and federal criminal investigations into the lead contamination -- as well as deadly outbreaks of Legionnaires' disease in the Flint area that may also be related to the water switch -- are ongoing.
So far, Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette has brought charges against 13 current or former state and city officials in connection with the Flint crisis. He says more charges are coming.
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