LANSING — Michigan will be the first state in the nation to require filtered drinking water at all schools and daycare centers under new laws signed Thursday by Democratic Gov. Gretchen Whitmer.
Facilities will have until the end of the 2025-26 school year to install at least one bottle-filling station or faucet filter for every 100 children under the laws, which aim to prevent lead exposure that, at high levels, can cause brain damage and developmental delays.
“No amount of lead in water is safe for kids, ” sponsoring state Rep. Ranjeev Puri, D-Canton, said in a statement. “…The least we can expect is that the place we send our children every day to learn and play is safe and has clean drinking water.”
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A nonpartisan analysis estimates the new law would cost as much as $65 million to implement.
The new rules are the latest front in Michigan’s ongoing fight against lead contamination following the 2015 Flint water crisis. As of 2021, the state had the fourth-highest rate of children with elevated lead levels in their blood.
Former Gov. Rick Snyder responded to criticism over the Flint crisis by toughening drinking water rules in 2018. Whitmer has begun to help fund some required lead service line replacements and earlier this month signed a new universal lead screening law for young kids.
“In Michigan, we have seen the devastating and long-lasting impact of lead exposure, and we are committed to making sure no child has to suffer through this again,” Whitmer said Thursday.
The governor also signed separate bills to enshrine “Obamacare” protections in state law. Among other things, that will ensure health insurers will not be able to discriminate against Michiganders with pre-existing conditions even if the federal law is overturned in court.
The new water filter laws will require schools and daycare centers to develop a “drinking water management plan” within 15 months, and then update it every five years. The plan will have to list locations of bottle-filling stations and a schedule for filter testing.
The government has not traditionally required water testing, but high lead levels were found at a majority of the 114 Michigan schools and childcare centers that voluntarily tested between 2020 and 2022, according to a recent analysis.
Michigan lawmakers already set aside $50 million to help schools and daycare centers purchase water filters as part of a 2022 spending deal.
The Natural Resources Defense Council, an environmental advocacy group that pushed for the new Michigan policy, contends installing filtered water bottle filling stations in every school will be significantly cheaper than making schools test every tap and then replace units with high lead levels, as considered in other states.
The “landmark” Michigan law is now a “national model for protecting kids from lead in schools,” the group’s attorney, Joan Leary Matthews, said in a statement.
“These laws go straight to the solution by proactively requiring the installation of lead-removing filters without first testing for lead that will inevitably be found.”