House committee still tweaking bipartisan ‘safe drinking water’ bills 

By: - October 15, 2019 8:14 pm

The state House Natural Resources and Outdoor Recreation Committee took up bills on statewide drinking water quality issues Tuesday afternoon, but declined to move forward on them until certain issues raised at the hearing are addressed.

The 10-bill “safe drinking water” package, sponsored by an even split of House Democrats and Republicans, proposes updates to a variety of protections against lead and PFAS (per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances) in drinking water. Although the intent of the legislation was met with general support from committee members, some concerns were raised.

Sarah Cambensy

“It scares me a little bit that we’re looking at … interminable amounts on many of these bills,” state Rep. Sara Cambensy (D-Marquette) said of the financial impact.

“As these bills move through, we need appropriations bills to go with them, because I don’t think it’s fair that we put this burden financially on the individual schools and on the individual municipalities,” Cambensy said. “… We need a revenue source.”

Sarah Lyon-Callo, director and state epidemiologist at the state Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS), spoke at the end of the hearing and noted the department’s opposition of two bills in particular.

HB 4747 and HB 4748, sponsored by state Reps. John Cherry (D-Flint) and Mary Whiteford (R-Casco Twp.), respectively, outline the creation of a Childhood Lead Poisoning Prevention and Control Commission within the DHHS. Among other duties, the commission would study, review and recommend policy on lead poisoning threats to children.

Whiteford, who chairs the House DHHS Appropriations Subcommittee, which oversees the department budget, acknowledged that a governor-appointed child lead poisoning elimination board currently exists

“This legislation will ensure that this important function is delineated in statute permanently,” she said.

In her remarks after the initial bill testimony, Lyon-Callo said that the currently existing commission is already permanent. The Child Lead Exposure Elimination Commission (CLEEC) was established by executive order in 2017, she said, and is a valuable advisory board for government and stakeholders on programs and policies to eliminate lead exposure in Michigan.

“We do see overlap within the existing functions and structures of the Childhood Lead Exposure Elimination Commission. Therefore, MDHHS did put in a card opposing these bills as written,” Lyon-Callo said.

Charlotte Jameson of the Michigan Environmental Council also spoke before the committee, listing the Council’s position as “neutral” with “varying requested changes on each of the bills.”

Jameson advised a “filter-first” approach to be written into the following bills: 

  • HB 4742 and HB 4743, sponsored by Committee Chair Gary Howell (R-North Branch) and state Rep. Joseph Tate (D-Detroit), respectively, would require drinking water at existing and future Michigan veterans’ facilities to be tested for lead.
  • HB 4744 sponsored by state Rep. Leslie Love (D-Detroit) would provide for a program for testing and removing lead in drinking water used by vulnerable population centers, including adult foster care facilities, childcare centers, schools and nursing homes.

A “filter-first” approach to drinking water infrastructure would place emphasis on replacing filters rather than replacing infrastructure itself. Jameson said the approach is more cost-effective, aligns very well with the existing Lead and Copper Rule, and could better protect children and other vulnerable populations.

“We would also like to see Afendoulis’ bill aligned with the lead and copper rule,” Jameson said, referring to HB 4749 sponsored by state Rep. Lynn Afendoulis (R-Grand Rapids Twp.). 

The bill would require public water suppliers to perform lead and copper testing on a new water source at least one year before they switch to it, and would require that the data from that testing be made public.

Jameson also agreed with the DHHS position on HB 4747 and HB 4748 on a childhood lead poisoning commission.

“We’re very supportive of potentially codifying that into statute. However, we would want it to reflect the existing lead commission, so that work can continue and there’s not a disruption there,” she said.

“Overall, it’s a great package … but I would definitely say that we would advise some changes throughout,” Jameson added.

Three officials from the Department of Environment, Great Lakes and Energy (EGLE) also testified. George Krisztian, assistant director for the department’s Drinking Water and Environmental Health division, appeared to reference HB 4064 as he called for legislators to consider the implementation of “hydration stations” at Michigan schools as a way to protect children from potential lead exposure. The stations include a drinking fountain and dispenser for refilling water bottles.

HB 4064, sponsored by state Rep. Sheldon Neeley (D-Flint), would provide for a program for testing and removing lead in drinking water used by schools and child care centers.

Many traditional school drinking fountains and sinks are made of older materials that may not be up to current lead standards, Krisztian said, which makes it challenging to ensure safe water quality at each of them.

Hydration stations would limit the number of points where children would receive water at schools, and in turn improve overall water quality by increasing water flow to those few select points. The hydration stations would also be easier for schools to maintain and monitor, Krisztian said.

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer visits Smuts Farms in Charlotte, Michigan | Michael Gerstein

In her budget recommendation earlier this year, Gov. Whitmer had originally proposed $65 million for hydration stations to be installed in Michigan schools. The proposal did not make it into the Republican-led Legislature’s budget, however.

Kurt Weiss, spokesperson for the state Department of Technology, Management and Budget, said in an email that the funding was not able to be restored through Whitmer’s use of the state Administration Board.

“There is no mechanism to establish funding for the hydration stations without support from the Legislature,” Weiss wrote.

Other bills in the package include:

  • HB 4745 sponsored by state Rep. Bronna Kahle (R-Adrian) would direct the Legislature to set aside $3 million annually for the Michigan PFAS Action Response Team (MPART) to conduct certain geological survey work to protect against groundwater contamination.
  • Drinking water station | Susan J. Demas

    HB 4746 sponsored by state Rep. Beth Griffin (R-Mattawan) would codify MPART into law. It would also give the team a permanent home within EGLE, where it has been housed since the administration change in January.

  • HB 4750 sponsored by state Rep. Sheryl Kennedy (D-Davison) would require any lead service lines to be disclosed to customers by water suppliers, and disclosed to tenants by landlords in any rental agreement.

In adjourning the hearing, Howell said, “Clearly, there are some bugs” in the legislation. Howell said the bill sponsors should meet with EGLE and DHHS officials to work on issues before the panel takes up the package again.

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Laina G. Stebbins
Laina G. Stebbins

Laina G. Stebbins is a former Michigan Advance reporter. A lifelong Michigander, she is a graduate of Michigan State University’s School of Journalism, where she served as Founding Editor of The Tab Michigan State and as a reporter for the Capital News Service.