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Michigan Senate passes bills forcing schools to filter drinking water

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LANSING, MI — All schools and childcare centers in Michigan would be required to filter drinking water for contaminants like lead under legislation which was passed by the state senate this week by a large bipartisan margin.

Senate Bills 184 and 185, introduced in February 2021 by state Sens. Curtis VanderWall, R-Ludington, and Jim Ananich, D-Flint, passed the senate 35-1 on Tuesday, Sept. 20.

Sen. Ed McBroom, R-Vulcan, was the only ‘no’ vote.

The bills direct schools and childcare centers to develop a drinking water safety plan, install filtered bottle-filling stations and faucets, shut off any water outlet that’s not filtered and post signage near a water outlet indicating whether it’s safe for human consumption.

“We need to protect the water our children drink from lead and other poisons,” said VanderWall. “This legislation will ensure schools and childcare centers only install filtered drinking water stations and have the tools and resources to keep our children safe from contaminated drinking water.”

Bill sponsors said aging water service lines, plumbing and fixtures may contribute contaminants to finished water, which can stagnate in pipes during weekends and extended breaks. That increases the risk for children whose developing brains are vulnerable to lead exposure.

The bills create a fund in the Department of Treasury to assist schools and daycares with filter acquisition and installation, maintenance and testing costs. The department may also award grants and conduct bulk purchases of required equipment to save on costs.

Advocates said filtration at the point-of-use approach is more cost-effective than periodic tap testing or replacing water lines and on-premise plumbing.

If signed into law, the program could take advantage of $50 million in funding for filters set aside in the $5 billion supplemental state budget passed in March.

“We put substantial money behind it for schools and daycares already, but the policy needed to follow with it,” said Ananich. “I was happy to get those done.”

The Michigan Department of Environment, Great Lakes and Energy (EGLE) and groups like the Ecology Center and National Resources Defense Council (NRDC) supported the bill.

Michigan would be the first US state to implement a “filter first” program, say advocates. The bills were first introduced in 2019 during the last legislative session.

“No amount of lead is safe for children,” said Charlotte Jameson, chief policy officer for the Michigan Environmental Council. “Lead poisoning can stunt development, make learning difficult and physically sick. We commend the Michigan Senate for recognizing these dangers and supporting the best solution to them. Filters eliminate the threat of lead in children’s drinking water, helping them thrive now and far into the future.”

– MLive reporter Alyssa Burr contributed to this story

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