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lead and copper rule

Lara Moehlman / Michigan Radio

After reporting on the Flint water crisis, there’s one question people have asked me over and over: Should I be worried about lead in my tap water?

We can look at the numbers cities provide in annual reports. But those numbers don’t always tell the whole story.

Lindsey Smith / Michigan Radio

Three communities in Michigan are taking a much closer look for lead in their drinking water this year.

MDEQ releases watered-down lead and copper standard

May 11, 2018
Work crew replacing a lead service line in Flint.
Steve Carmody / Michigan Radio

The Michigan Department of Environmental Quality updated its proposed lead and copper rule to allow utilities more flexibility in scheduling replacement of lead service lines. It also increased the lead action level from the original 10 parts per billion to 12 ppb. The federal action level is 15.

Lindsey Smith / Michigan Radio

Last week, Michigan Radio published a story about the Village of Beverly Hills, Michigan; a Detroit suburb located in southern Oakland County. The village currently has the highest 90th percentile for lead in water in the state.

Two women
Lindsey Smith / Michigan Radio

Jennifer Gilchrist moved from New York City back home to the Detroit suburb of Beverly Hills in 2016. She moved to help take care of her mom Joellen, a retired Detroit high school teacher, and to fix up her childhood home.

That’s when a plumber told them they had a lead service line.

drinking fountain
jasongillman / pixabay

The Department of Environmental Quality is making a final call for public comments on revisions to the state’s lead in drinking water regulations. The deadline to submit comments on the proposed changes has been extended to Wednesday, March 21 at 5 p.m.

Lindsey Smith / Michigan Radio

Michigan’s Department of Environmental Quality should update its rules on the level of lead that’s considered acceptable in drinking water.

That is the one thing most everyone at a public hearing in Lansing Thursday night did agree on.

But many Flint activists and environmentalists say the proposed changes to lead rules don’t go far enough. Others, especially those running community water systems, say changes go way too far, presenting major legal and cost issues.

Drinking water fountain.
Gabrielle Emanuel / Michigan Radio

The Michigan Department of Environmental Quality is moving forward with proposed changes to the lead and copper rule. If approved, Michigan would hold the toughest regulations on lead in drinking water in the nation.

Among the policy revisions is a motion to lower the acceptable lead level in a community’s tap water. If the law passes, the “action level” of 15 parts per billion (ppb) of lead would drop to 10 ppb.

”Though no amount lead is safe in water, reducing that down is going to be very important,” says Chris Kolb, president of the Michigan Environmental Council.

The Flint River is 142 miles long and flows through five counties.
Steve Carmody / Michigan Radio

In Flint, Michigan, hundreds of people have filed lawsuits over that city's lead water crisis. They're seeking damages that range from property value losses to brain damage in kids. 

Most of the lawsuits have been consolidated into one massive case. Thursday, a federal district judge in Ann Arbor ordered all the parties into mediation.

That could conceivably get money to victims much faster. 

One of the plaintiffs is 72-year-old Elnora Carthan.

Lindsey Smith / Michigan Radio

Michigan’s Department of Environmental Quality is vowing to strengthen lead-in-water rules because of the Flint water crisis. At a public meeting in Lansing Wednesday night, state regulators said they cannot wait on the federal government to finish its own version of the new rules.

Lindsey Smith / Michigan Radio

Michigan’s Department of Environmental Quality is unveiling changes to lead in water rules this week.

Communities in Michigan with lead water pipes will have special interest in a public meeting Michigan's Department of Environmental Quality is hosting Wednesday night.

There are lead service lines in older communities across Michigan. Because of their age and population size, it’s fair to say the bulk of Michigan’s lead service lines are in cities in Southeast Michigan.

I spent a lot of time trying to determine which Detroit suburbs have lead service lines and how many. I wanted to see how far out into the suburbs lead was found in underground water pipes.

It was relatively easy (albeit an expensive FOIA bill near $2000 for these "public documents") to track down which communities were testing lead lines. But figuring out how many lead pipes were in each community is nearly impossible.

notices
Emma Winowiecki / Michigan Radio

Because of the Flint water crisis, several Michigan cities are making long term plans to replace old lead water pipes that connect homes to the water main.

That is good for public health, but well-meaning municipal water operators can actually make lead exposure worse if they’re not careful.

There’s a mix of lead and copper pipes buried near the corner of Trinity and Florence in a neighborhood on Detroit’s northwest side. When I visited a month ago the block was lined with nice, two story brick homes and orange construction barrels. It smelled like diesel.

1992 LCR document from Battle Creek
Emma Winowiecki / Michigan Radio

One of the things Flint’s water operators got in trouble for was falsifying records; for saying the city was testing homes at the highest risk of having elevated lead levels when it was not. But records obtained by Michigan Radio show Flint is not the only city in the state that tested the wrong homes over the years and potentially underestimated lead in water.

The biggest culprit for high lead in tap water is the lead water pipes that connect a house to the water main. That’s why cities are supposed to test those homes.

construction workers
Bryce Huffman / Michigan Radio

Public and political pressure from the Flint water crisis is beginning to shape new, tougher water regulations in Michigan - and other states are taking notice.

If passed, they’d be the strongest such measures in the country.

Two years ago, when news broke about the Flint water crisis, lots of people wondered if Michigan’s governor would resign. That’s because emails show Rick Snyder’s top aides had concerns about Flint’s water long before pediatricians and scientists proved there was a huge problem.

Water faucent in Flint.
Mark Brush / Michigan Radio

Michigan’s drinking water regulators need more resources to do their jobs correctly. That’s one of the major takeaways of a detailed federal audit released Thursday afternoon.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency launched the audit almost two years ago, right after the state at least started to acknowledge that there was a serious problem with Flint’s drinking water.

Lead service line
Lindsey Smith / Michigan Radio

Most water systems operators around the state had a hint this was coming.

The Flint water crisis has reverberated among water professionals working from Muskegon and Grand Haven all through the state and to the Detroit metro area; where the bulk of the state's drinking water lines are still buried.

drinking fountain
jasongillman / pixabay

A teacher is suing Detroit Public Schools for allegedly retaliating against her after she reported unsafe water at her school, John R. King Academy. 

According to the lawsuit, in the spring of 2016, Detroit Public Schools shut down water fountains in more than a dozen schools after high levels of lead or copper – or both – were found in the drinking water. 

John R. King Academy had too much copper. 

Flint Mayor Weaver, Lansing Mayor Bernaro, and Ret. Brig. Gen. Michael McDaniel stand next to the lead pipe.
Mark Brush / Michigan Radio

Flint’s pipe replacement program faces a critical deadline at the end of this week.

By Friday, Flint needs to replace its 2,037th lead or galvanized service line.

That would be approximately 7% of the estimated number of suspect pipes tied to the city’s lead tainted tap water crisis.

The mandated 7% threshold is part of the federal Lead and Copper Rule.  

Lead service line
Lindsey Smith / Michigan Radio

Ann Arbor is approaching a milestone of sorts. The city is replacing the last of its lead connections in the water system.

Ann Arbor city officials say they never allowed full lead service lines, the water pipes buried underground that connect homes to the water main.

Where are lead water pipes in Michigan? Here’s our best guess

Lead pipes
Mitch Barrie / Flickr - http://j.mp/1SPGCl0

KALAMAZOO, Mich. (AP) - More than 200 lead water pipes will be removed from a southwest Michigan city this summer. MLive (http://bit.ly/2oU9UII ) reports the Kalamazoo City Commission approved a nearly $850,000 construction contract on Monday with Rieth-Riley Construction Co. to replace the lines.

The city's 2017 Water Capital Improvement Budget will fund the service line replacement project. Public Services Director James Baker says Kalamazoo plans to replace almost 500 lead service lines during the 2017 construction season. Baker says on average the city has removed 100 lead pipes per year. 

steve carmody / Michigan Radio

Today, people in Flint marked the anniversary of the start of the city’s drinking water crisis.

It was three years ago, when Flint officials pushed the button switching the city’s tap water source from Detroit to the Flint River.  Improperly treated river water damaged pipes, which then leached lead into the drinking water.

Since then, Flint’s lead-tainted drinking water has drawn national attention and local protests.

Lead pipes
Mitch Barrie / Flickr - http://j.mp/1SPGCl0

Governor Rick Snyder plans to take executive action on tougher standards for lead in drinking water in the face of foot-dragging by the Legislature.

The Legislature’s Republican leaders have been cool to Governor Snyder’s proposed new lead-in-water rules, which would be tougher than federal standards. The governor says the federal rule is weak and confusing, and partially responsible for the Flint water crisis.

Lead pipes
Mitch Barrie / Flickr - http://j.mp/1SPGCl0

State House and Senate leaders are uneasy about the governor’s proposed changes to the state Lead and Copper Rule.

Governor Rick Snyder is trying to make the state’s regulations stricter than the federal requirements. He wants to lower the safe limit from 15 parts per billion to 10.

Snyder previously called the federal Lead and Copper Rule, “dumb and dangerous.” Now Snyder spokesperson Ari Adler says the governor is working with the legislature to make sure Michigan’s form of the rule is safer than the federal rule.

Samples of various drinking water pipes.
Rebecca Williams / Michigan Radio

Some state lawmakers got an early peek at Governor Rick Snyder’s new lead rules that are supposed to be rolled out this week.l A top state environmental official shared some details in testimony before a state House budget subcommittee.

 

Lindsey Smith / Michigan Radio

The U.S. EPA is making long term revisions to the 25-year-old Lead and Copper Rule. The new rules are expected to come out this year. A top EPA official says one of the biggest changes could be an expensive one.

Because of the water crisis in Flint, city officials now know there are more than 20,000 lead service lines, the water pipes connecting homes to a water main, still buried underground in Flint.

Because of Flint, we know that other cities are now at least trying to figure out how many lead service lines they have and where they’re located.

steve carmody / Michigan Radio

Nearly a year after Governor Snyder first proposed it, a package of bills addressing lead in Michigan’s drinking water should soon be in the hands of state lawmakers.

Gov. Rick Snyder has repeatedly faulted the federal lead/copper rule and how it’s been interpreted for helping to create Flint’s lead tainted tap water crisis.

Flint Mayor Karen Weaver (at the podium) was joined by national and local experts to discuss the latest Flint water test results.
Steve Carmody / Michigan Radio

Government and independent experts told people at a town hall meeting in Flint last night that the city’s lead-tainted tap water is improving. But audience members remained skeptical. 

Zhu “Joyce” Ni, Min Tang, Pan Ji, Mariah Gnegy / Virginia Tech

Researchers from Virginia Tech announced the results of their fourth round of water testing in Flint today.

The tests show that lead levels continue to drop, that water disinfection by-products in the water are normal, and that the drinking water in the city continues to improve.

“We’re now approaching the end of the public health crisis,” said Marc Edwards of Virginia Tech University.

Edwards says even with the improvements, citizens in Flint should still be protecting themselves.

Lindsey Smith / Michigan Radio

New test results show lead levels in Kalamazoo’s water system have dropped.

The federal limit for lead in water is 15 parts per billion. Last time the city tested, in 2014, Kalamazoo’s lead level was 13 parts per billion. Now it's down to 4 ppb.

13 ppb was close enough to worry Shannan Deater, Kalamazoo’s Environmental Services Programs Manager. She says some of the higher lead results in 2014 weren’t really a good, representative sample. 

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