Michigan governor signs public notice bill for contaminated water


Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder visited Flint on Friday, signing legislation that will require communities in the state to be more promptly notified in the event of a water contamination, such as elevated lead levels. The bill aims to avoid events like the public outreach catastrophe that worsened the Flint water crisis in 2015.

Snyder’s signing of the legislation marks the first policy change signed into state law as a result of the Flint water crisis. The governor said that while it is an important step in improving Flint’s water safety, there is still much more work left to do.

“This bill is an important first step,’ Snyder said in a hall at Grace Emmanuel Baptist Church. “This is about dealing with the tragic crisis we’ve suffered through.”

House Bill 5120, sponsored by state Rep. Sheldon Neeley, (D-Flint), requires municipal water systems, upon learning their water has exceeded the federal “action level” for lead, to notify the public within three business days.

Under current law, public notice of such a violation must happen “as soon as practical,” but within no more than 30 days, according to a House Fiscal Agency analysis of the legislation.

A lack of public notice was among the many problems that contributed to a public health crisis after Flint’s drinking water became contaminated with lead following a switch to the Flint River for its drinking water supply in April 2014, while the city was under the control of a state-appointed emergency manager.

Despite almost immediate complaints about the color, odor and taste of the water, the state did not acknowledge a lead contamination problem until about Oct. 1, 2015, long after tests showed elevated lead levels in tap water samples and other tests showed a spike in toxic lead levels in the blood of Flint children.

RELATED: Examining Flint’s Water Testing & Other Challenges of Drinking Water Emergencies

Neeley said the bill will help prevent other Michigan communities from going through what Flint experienced. Among others, he thanked Snyder as “my friend and partner in this legislation.”

Flint’s drinking water supply was first contaminated with lead starting in April 2014 when the city, while under the control of state-appointed emergency management, switched the source of supply from Lake Huron water supplied by the City of Detroit to Flint River water treated at Flint’s city treatment plant. Michigan DEQ officials have since acknowledged they made a mistake when they failed to require the needed corrosion control chemicals to be added to the water.

As a result, lead leached from pipes and fixtures into the drinking water. Although the city switched back to Detroit water in October 2015, the potential for harm continued due to damage done to Flint’s water distribution infrastructure. More recently, the city has pursued affordable programs to replace lead service lines. In December, President Barack Obama signed the Water Infrastructure Improvements for the Nation (WIIN) Act into law. The bill authorizes $170 million for communities facing drinking water emergencies, including funding for Flint to recover from the lead contamination in its drinking water system.


Some information in this news was first reported by the Detroit Free Press.

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