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Michigan officials: Testing will uncover more lead in water

Associated Press

LANSING, Mich. (AP) — Michigan officials on Wednesday began informing the public of tougher sampling rules they expect to result in more drinking-water systems exceeding limits for lead, a byproduct of new regulations enacted after Flint’s troubles.

Samples now have to be taken not only from the first liter drawn from a house with exterior or interior lead plumbing, but also the fifth liter.

Leisl Clark, director of the state Department of Environment, Great Lakes and Energy, said the testing change will provide “more precision and more insight into what’s actually happening in the homes.”

“We’re expecting to see higher lead results in communities across the state,” she told The Associated Press before a news conference with Gov. Gretchen Whitmer and state health officials.

Clark said 100 cities and towns will send the state samples in coming weeks, and an additional 300 will follow in the fall.

She had no estimate of how many more systems could exceed the lead limit, which is triggered if concentrations surpass 15 parts per billion in more than 10% of the customers’ taps that are sampled. But she said one municipality, Hampton Township near Bay City, recently went over the threshold because of the fifth-liter sampling and would not have been flagged under the old testing rules.

“We want to communicate with folks about that. We want them to be aware that the rules changed, and so we’re testing with more precision. We’re able to protect people in a better way,” Clark said.

A year ago, former Gov. Rick Snyder put in place the nation’s strictest regulations for lead in drinking water following the man-made emergency in Flint, where the toxic metal leached into taps in 2014 and 2015 because of a lack of corrosion-control treatment following a change in the city’s water source.

Underground lead service lines connecting water mains to houses and other buildings will be replaced by 2040, unless a utility can show regulators it will take longer to repair and replace its water infrastructure. The “action level” for lead will drop from 15 parts per billion, the federal limit, to 12 in 2025.

The rules also prohibit the partial replacement of lead service pipes except in emergencies; require preliminary and final inventories of the lines and other components of a water supply by 2020 and 2025; and are meant to ensure samples are taken at the highest-risk sites and with methods designed to more accurately detect lead.

Michigan’s environmental and health departments started a new website Wednesday to show lead and copper data results and give residents information on how to protect themselves from lead. They will hold three online town hall-style events from July 9 to July 11.

Whitmer this week signed a mid-fiscal year spending bill that sets aside $3 million related to the new regulations. About $1.7 million will cover the cost of water filters for low-income families; $820,000 will go toward informing the public in places with higher lead levels; and $484,000 will pay for home inspections.

The Democratic governor is pushing the Republican-led Legislature to allocate $37.5 million more on the rules, including for the replacement of lead service pipes. The Senate so far has supported putting $25 million in the next budget, but the House has not embraced that proposal.

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