LANSING, Mich. — Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder said Thursday his administration will enact the country's toughest lead limit for water in the wake of the lead contamination in Flint, following up on a proposal he first unveiled nearly a year ago.
Snyder said he will gradually lower Michigan's "action level" for lead in drinking water from 15 parts per billion, the federal limit, to 10 ppb by 2020 through administrative rule-making. He said the change does not need legislative approval. Some of his other post-Flint proposals, such as requiring homeowners and landlords to disclose lead pipes and plumbing to prospective buyers or renters, will require legislation.
Snyder, who has apologized for his administration's role in the water crisis that exposed children to toxic lead, reiterated his refrain that the federal lead rule is "dumb and dangerous."
"We need a Michigan rule that is smart and safe," he said in a statement. "We are taking action to provide safe and reliable drinking water infrastructure that will protect the health and well-being of all Michiganders."
Under U.S. Environmental Protection Agency rules, water systems across the nation must take steps to control corrosion if lead concentrations exceed 15 ppb in more than 10 per cent of customer taps sampled. Under Snyder's plan, the threshold would drop to 10 ppb in more than 10 per cent of taps. The EPA could suggest revisions to the national rule this year, though it is unclear if that is still the case after President Donald Trump took office.
Snyder did not specify how quickly he could implement the changes, nor did he give details about the phase-in of the stricter lead standard.
Mark Edwards, a Virginia Tech University professor who helped expose Flint's tainted water, said Michigan's reforms could be a model for other states.
The Republican governor said other initiatives he will pursue through rule-making include requiring water systems to have advisory councils with citizen members and requiring most public systems to make an inventory of their lead services lines that carry water from the street to homes and other buildings.
Proposals that would need approval in the GOP-controlled Legislature include ones to strengthen water sampling methods, require public disclosure of testing results or filters on every drinking fountain in state-licensed facilities for children and vulnerable adults, prohibit the partial replacing of lead service pipes, and mandate property owners to disclose plumbing known to contain lead.
Last April, Snyder also called for replacing all of an estimated 460,000 underground lead service pipes in the state. He did not mention that proposal Thursday, and it was not immediately clear if he had dropped it.
Flint returned to Detroit's water system in 2015 after a fateful switch in 2014 to the Flint River while under state management, but residents still must use faucet filters or bottled water while the federal government, state and city work to make the system safe with corrosion-reducing phosphates.
While Michigan has allocated more than $250 million toward the public health emergency, it has been much slower in enacting major policy reforms. Democrats are pushing to repeal or amend the emergency manager law, which was blamed as a factor in the crisis.
On Wednesday, Genesee County approved a plan to allow it to begin drawing and treating water from a new pipeline to Lake Huron while Flint continues buying pre-treated water from Detroit's system. The county board OK'd building a 7-mile connector to the new Karegnondi Water Authority this year.
Officials in Flint have estimated the city will not be ready to treat raw water itself before 2019.
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David Eggert, The Associated Press