Column: Filter First legislation would ensure safe drinking water in schools, childcare centers

May 25, 2023 3:07 am

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It’s been almost a decade since the start of the Flint water crisis, and yet there is still no law in our state to ensure that the drinking water in our schools and childcare centers is safe for Michigan kids. 

That could all change if the Filter First bills recently passed by the Senate (Senate Bills 88 and 89) and currently being considered in the House (House Bills 4340, 4341 and 4342) are signed into law, creating a healthier future for our state’s youngest residents.

When it comes to lead exposure, there is no safe blood lead level for fetuses, infants and young children. Exposure to even low levels of lead during infancy or childhood can impair brain development and cause a lifetime of devastating health issues, including slowed growth and development; disabilities related to hearing, speech, behavior and learning; and harm to the central nervous system and kidneys. 

As they grow up, lead-poisoned children can also face discrimination in school systems and a labor market that isn’t designed for people with disabilities, denying them opportunities for educational success and economic security later in life.

While Flint may have been in the national spotlight for lead contamination, we know that lead can be found in the plumbing in schools and childcare centers across our state. An estimated nine in 10 Michigan schools have detectable levels of lead in their water and, earlier this year, Michigan received a failing grade for its efforts to combat the lead in school drinking water, according to a national report from Environment America and the U.S. Public Interest Research Group Education Fund. 

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We also know that lead exposure in schools and childcare centers is especially concerning given the amount of time that kids spend in these spaces as well as the periods of time when water sits stagnant during weekends and long breaks. When there is a lack of regular water flow during periods when schools and childcare centers are closed, the effectiveness of corrosion control chemicals designed to keep water healthy is greatly diminished and more opportunity exists for bacteria, lead and copper to get into the water. 

Put into action, the Filter First bills would address these concerning issues by requiring all Michigan schools to implement a drinking water management plan, install or supply filtered bottle-filling stations or filtered faucets and regularly have the filtered water tested to ensure that the filters are installed and operating properly. 

The bills would also require all Michigan childcare centers to implement a drinking water management plan and conduct regular testing; however, in addition to the option of installing filtered bottle-filling stations or faucets, childcare centers would also have the option to supply safe drinking water through the use of filtered pitchers or water from a water delivery source. 

These bills have garnered widespread support from health and environmental experts, and are also strongly supported by the Michigan League for Public Policy and our partners. 

While the Legislature has already appropriated the funding for the Filter First program, it cannot be properly launched without the implementation of the Filter First bills currently in the state Legislature. The bills provide the framework to ensure the program and its funding are well implemented by our state departments and that school and childcare staff across Michigan have the guidance needed to adopt a Filter First method for the young children in their care.  

To stay healthy and strong, Michigan kids need clean water. Limiting their exposure to lead will help them to avoid health issues, stay in school and grow up in early care and learning environments where they can thrive. 

The League applauds the Senate for its recent passage of the Filter First bills and the House Health Policy Committee for reporting out the House bills last week. Now it’s up to the full House to take swift action to pass these bills and move them forward to the governor’s desk, so that our state departments, schools and childcare centers can roll up their sleeves and begin the important work of making the Filter First program a reality for Michigan kids. 


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Julie Cassidy
Julie Cassidy

Julie Cassidy is the Michigan League for Public Policy's senior policy analyst. Before that, she spent 14 years working as a legislative analyst for the nonpartisan Senate Fiscal Agency, where she specialized in health, energy and environmental issues.