Michigan Cities and Water Utilities Attack Critical Drinking Water Safeguard
Despite the Flint water crisis that’s plagued residents for years, Michigan’s cities and water utilities are taking aim at a rule that protects the health of thousands of children.
Six months ago, Michigan adopted its new Lead and Copper Rule, which eventually removes all lead service lines, the pipes that carry drinking water to homes. Then yesterday, cities and water utilities—lead by Detroit Mayor Duggan and Oakland County Commissioner Jim Nash—sued to undo it. “This lawsuit is a full-bore attack on the health of thousands of children in Michigan who are at risk of lead poisoning,” says Cyndi Roper, a senior water advocate at NRDC. “Attacking this lead rule sets up the potential of many Flints to come, and kids will continue drinking lead in their water indefinitely.”
According to the new Lead and Copper Rule, water utilities must replace all lead service lines, and no partial service line replacements—which can increase neurotoxic contamination in homes—are allowed. The law set an example for other states and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency on how to “address an issue plaguing water systems across the country,” Roper said at the time.
Exposure to lead can lead to significant and irreversible damage to children’s developing brains and nervous systems. It has also been linked to miscarriages, fertility issues, cardiovascular and kidney problems, cognitive dysfunction, and elevated blood pressure. Experts agree there is no safe level of lead exposure.
Michigan’s Lead and Copper Rule was in large part a response to the high-profile drinking water crisis in Flint, in which thousands of homes were subject to lead leaching from aging pipes into their water. Independent tests at the start of the crisis found that a significant portion of samples had lead levels well above the EPA’s action level. An estimated 9,000 children, who are particularly sensitive to lead and its health effects, were exposed to contaminated water for 18 months. Litigation led by NRDC and our partners ultimately led to a settlement in which state and city officials agreed to replace an estimated 18,000 lead service pipes.
“Local officials like Mayor Duggan and Commissioner Jim Nash should stop fighting against protections for kids and instead join us in fighting for funds for lead pipes and other water infrastructure to protect kids who are unknowingly being exposed to lead in drinking water,” Roper says. “Michigan officials should know better.”