Coalition of school officials, concerned parents, health professionals, environmental groups calls for action to ensure safe drinking water for kids

Coalition of school officials, concerned parents, health professionals, environmental groups calls for action to ensure safe drinking water for kids

Bipartisan “Filter First” bills are cost-effective solution to protect drinking water for kids

Today the Michigan House Natural Resources and Outdoor Recreation Committee took testimony on House Bills 5104 and 5105 that would protect children from lead and other toxic contaminants in school and childcare drinking water by establishing a comprehensive “Filter First” program across Michigan. A coalition of school officials, concerned parents, health experts, and environmental groups spoke in support of the bipartisan bill package, called for funding in the FY21 appropriations bills for schools and childcare centers to implement the program, and issued the following statements of support.  

The legislation would do the following:

  • Ensure schools and daycares create safe drinking water plans with guidance from the Department of Environment, Great Lakes, and Energy (EGLE).
  • Following a phase-in period, schools and daycares would be required to install filtered drinking water fountains and, in limited cases, on-tap filters and ensure non-filtered outlets are removed or not used.
  • Require schools and daycares to test the filtered tap water annually to ensure filters are functioning properly.
  • Ensure schools and daycare centers communicate with families about the quality of drinking water provided to children.
  • Create a fund within EGLE for the department to make grants to schools as well as daycares in low-income communities to cover the cost of additional requirements of the bills.

“Parents, children, and school and childcare center employees shouldn’t have to worry that the water they are drinking is damaging their health. Unfortunately without a comprehensive water ‘Filter First’ protection program in place, we can’t ensure that the water coming out of school and childcare center taps is safe,” said Charlotte Jameson, program director for legislative affairs, energy, and drinking water for the Michigan Environmental Council. “We urge the legislature to prioritize children’s health by supporting the bipartisan Filter First bill package and providing funding to schools and childcare centers to implement it.”

“Sampling accurately for lead in schools and childcare centers is complicated and communicating results is tricky. These steps don’t even guarantee safe water for children. Installing filter stations and a limited number of point of use filters for all drinking water taps is much easier to implement and provides an immediate source of safe drinking water for all children and staff,” said Elin Betanzo, a parent in the Birmingham Public School district and a water quality engineer.

“Michigan’s Filter First bills would actually protect kids from lead in drinking water for roughly two-thirds of the cost of school water testing during the first year of the program,” said Cyndi Roper, Michigan Senior Policy Advocate, Natural Resources Defense Council. “Over ten years, the estimated savings are even more dramatic: Filter First would cost roughly one-third of the pricetag for chasing the lead. Other states are wasting millions of dollars chasing lead through testing then, when they find it — and they will find it — many schools don’t have enough money to get the lead out of the water.”

“The Filter First approach is very exciting because it is a cost-effective solution that provides immediate access to lead-free drinking water in schools. To ensure that students and staff in all Michigan schools have access to healthy drinking water, it is critical that we pass Filter First legislation,” said Abigail Dumes, a parent in the Ann Arbor Public Schools district and a medical anthropologist and assistant professor in the Department of Women’s Studies at the University of Michigan.

“These bills represent responsible governance at its best. We can’t wait when it comes to protecting children’s developing brains from toxic lead exposure,” said Nick Occhipinti, government affairs director for Michigan League of Conservation Voters.  “We call on lawmakers to support Filter First legislation to protect our kids by filtering their water now.”

“The health and safety of children is one of many concerns our school district prioritizes every day in delivering a high-quality education, said Rebecca Lazarus, Trustee/Treasurer of the Ann Arbor Public Schools Board of Education. The cost to implement a Filter First plan was a high unforeseen financial demand on our district. We were fortunate to have a community supported Sinking Fund. These funds allowed our District to implement a Filter First plan in 2018/19. However, other districts need financial help and I would strongly urge our legislators to support one-time appropriations to schools and childcare centers to cover costs of purchasing and installing the necessary filtered water fountains, as well as allow districts and centers to utilize Sinking Fund revenues to maintain filtered drinking fountains properly.”

“There is no safe level of lead for human exposure and the sampling and testing of drinking water is costly and time consuming. Testing merely confirms the presence of a source of lead exposure in the water system without actually addressing the problem. Young children are the most vulnerable to lead poisoning and suffer more severe impacts, particularly due to their rapidly developing nervous systems and brains. We urge our legislators to support the Filter First bill package and prioritize public health,” said Mara Herman, health policy specialist for the Ecology Center.

“Nearly 2 million Michigan children are affected by lead in drinking water sources at schools and daycare facilities. Lead is a potent neurotoxin with irreversible effects and children are the most vulnerable population to its effects. This is an issue for all communities across the state. I impress upon the legislature the urgent need for intervention to prevent childhood lead exposure by supporting House Bills 5104 and 5105. These bills offer cost-effective, immediate steps to reduce exposure rather than delaying action for costly testing,” said Patrick Kelly, a public health professional in Ann Arbor, MI.

Unfortunately, most plumbing materials contain lead. Protective coatings on plumbing that reduce corrosion and leaching of lead into drinking water are less effective in schools and childcare centers because the water sits stagnant in plumbing for long periods of time during the evening, on weekends, and during breaks.

The most protective solution to lead in school and childcare center drinking water is to place filters at the point of use: both installing filtered water fountains and, in some cases, on-tap filters. Carbon filtration has also been shown to be effective at filtering out long-chain PFAS. Additionally, filter installation is a cost-effective solution in the long run because it concentrates drinking water used at filtered taps, decreasing the number of taps that need to be monitored.

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