Quality of school water

September 1, 2016

Concerns over student health and safety in the wake of the Flint water crisis have spurred many local school districts to step up efforts to ensure their water is free of excessive lead and copper contamination, but the lack of meaningful action at the state and federal levels may give parents and officials a false sense of security.

Of the hundreds of school buildings in Oakland County, only 31 schools are required to conduct water sampling for lead and copper levels. Under federal law, schools that receive water from a public water system, such as the Great Lakes Water Authority (formerly the Detroit Water and Sewerage Department) or municipal water systems, such as those in areas of Rochester and Waterford, aren’t required to conduct water quality testing. Those requirements are mandated only for schools that receive water from their own private well systems, which include several schools in Highland Township, White Lake, Clarkston and other locations in western and northern Oakland County. That means water quality testing conducted at school districts in the Birmingham/Bloomfield and Rochester areas do so on a voluntary basis, and at their own expense. 

Downtown Publications this summer contacted more than 30 public and private school districts throughout Oakland County to determine whether they conduct water testing for lead and copper, with responses from 16 districts. Of those who responded, 12 districts test at least a portion of their drinking fountains and sinks for lead or copper levels, with three in the process of testing. Of those that have already tested water, seven found at least one fixture in the district that tested higher than the federal action level for lead or copper.

Districts surveyed that found elevated levels of lead or copper included Berkley Schools; Farmington Public Schools; Huron Valley Schools; Rochester Community Schools; South Lyon Schools; Southfield Schools and the Troy School District. Each of the districts conducted additional testing when elevated levels were found, and either took the water fixture out of service permanently or until the issue was resolved.

Districts that didn’t discover lead or copper levels above the limit set by the federal Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) may still have some presence of lead or copper. For instance, records provided by the Bloomfield Hills Schools district showed at least some presence of lead or copper at 11 of the 46 drinking fountains or sinks most recently sampled at the district.

“This is fairly new territory for us and we are implementing water testing and other measures to ensure safe drinking water for students, staff and visitors,” said Shira Good, director of communications and community relations for the Bloomfield Hills district. “We regularly review all drinking fountains and other water fixtures, considering replacement and repair where necessary. Our generous sinking fund enables us to stay on top of these kinds of issues, but we would strongly encourage the legislature to put adequate funding in place to address this ongoing concern.” 

Without voluntary water quality testing, the vast majority of school districts have virtually no information about the amount of lead and copper coming from the drinking fountains and sinks within their buildings.

While the federal Lead and Copper Rule requires public water suppliers to test some locations in each community, which are shared with the public in annual “consumer confidence” reports, those results represent a minuscule portion of water taps in each municipality. Further, some of the same procedures that allowed officials to under-report lead levels in water in Flint are still being used and prescribed by the federal Environmental Protection Agency and the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) today.

“One of the groups that (the law) doesn’t protect, ironically, is schools,” said Virginia Tech Professor Marc Edwards, who is considered one of the world’s leading experts in water corrosion in plumbing. “They tend to have the worst lead-in-water problems, and there is no requirement at all to even sample there.”

Edwards’ research on elevated lead in Washington D.C. gained national attention prior to his work to expose lead in Flint’s water system. In so doing, Edwards helped to reveal “cheats” used by Flint water officials to lower findings with pressure from the Michigan DEQ. 

While it’s now apparent that Flint water officials were purposefully working to skew testing results there, both federal regulators and the MDEQ have failed to address flawed water sampling procedures used by schools. Some of those issues are discussed in an April 2016 report issued by the state’s Flint Water Advisory Task Force.

“Flint’s water quality sampling was fundamentally flawed, giving false assurances and an untenable basis for the MDEQ’s claims that Flint’s water system was delivering safe water,” the report states. “The series of missteps and outright errors is well documented, including sampling of pre-flushed lines, use of narrow-mouthed bottles and perhaps most egregiously, failure to select high-risk homes for testing, as required by the Lead and Copper Rule.”

Both the EPA and the Michigan DEQ state water samples should be taken at “first draw,” or the first time a water tap is turned on in the morning, in order to better determine if lead is present. That recommendation is included in the federal Lead and Copper Rule, as well as guidelines for schools and day cares that voluntarily conduct water testing. However, guidelines for schools and daycares also recommend pre-flushing lines the night before testing, which can potentially lower lead and copper levels when tested.

“If systems are pre-flushing the tap the night before collection of (Lead and Copper Rule) compliance samples, this clears particulate lead out of plumbing and biases the results by eliminating the highest lead values,” the EPA said in an e-mail to the MDEQ in regard to residential water testing in Flint.

Despite the knowledge that pre-flushing can skew results, the EPA, to an extent, and the state DEQ continue to recommend the practice for schools and daycares conducting voluntary tests.

Interim DEQ State School Drinking Water Coordinator Susan Kilmer said the department provides guidance to schools that do test drinking water, and recommends that water not sit stagnant for more than 24 hours prior to testing. That recommendation, she said, is based on guidance from the EPA.

“The guidance document does instruct first-samples in the morning, and for the water to be still for six to eight hours,” Kilmer said. “We do recommend that if the water hasn’t been used for an extended period of time that they run the water the day before. That’s what we recommend.”

The MDEQ’s guidelines for school water sampling are based on similar guidelines issued by the EPA, which recommend water remain stagnant between eight and 18 hours in an outlet or fixture before testing.

“Collect all water samples before the facility opens and before any water is used. Ideally, the water should sit in the pipes unused for at least 8 hours but not more than 18 hours before a sample is taken,” the EPA guide states. “However, water may be more than 18 hours old at some outlets that are infrequently used. If this is typical of normal use patterns, then these outlets should still be sampled.”

While issues in Flint went well beyond the use of pre-flushing, Virginia Tech's Edwards said it and other flawed sampling techniques can skew results and allow needless exposure to lead and copper.

“It makes lead-in-water low when you sample it, even if it's high when people are drinking it. I never understood why — if you’re trying to find a lead-in-water problem to fix it — why you would do things to make lead in water look low,” Edwards said. “The whole premise of the (lead and copper) rule was when you sample, you’re trying to find the worst case in every possible way. All of those things circumvent that intent and undermine the effectiveness of the law completely, to the point where Flint never met the lead and copper rule.

“That’s what a sick joke this has become with all of these extra steps that people drink up and basically how hard they work to not find a lead-in-water problem. It’s mind boggling.”

Other “cheats” that may lower the levels of lead-in-water sampled include removing and/or cleaning aerators installed on faucets prior to testing, which may collect lead particulates; using narrow-mouthed bottles for testing to limit the flow of water from the tap; and failing to test locations most likely to have elevated lead levels, due to lead water fixtures, service lines or lead solder.

In February, the EPA issued a memo to 49 state water directors across the United States recommending they amend sampling instructions so not to include pre-stagnation flushing. The memo also instructs sampling to use wider bottles when drawing water, and to keep aerators in place without prior cleaning directly before testing. However, the memo applies only to tests mandated under the federal Lead and Copper Rule, and not to voluntary testing.

In April, Michigan’s DEQ issued an updated version of its guide for sampling for lead and copper in schools. Within that guide, the DEQ advises “not all fixtures identified for sampling may be used on a regular basis. Therefore, it is important to run each tap to clear the faucet the day prior to sampling for a minimum of two minutes.”

In addition to some variations between the EPA and MDEQ’s sampling recommendations, the EPA’s guidelines for voluntary testing of lead and copper at schools and daycare facilities recommends a maximum threshold for lead samples at 20 ppb (parts per billion), which is higher than the 15 ppb action level it prescribes under federal law. Michigan, however, has recommended schools use a maximum of 15 ppb for lead, and is seeking to lower that level to 5 ppb, which is the same as the federal limit for lead in bottled water.

While lead is harmful to all humans, children are the most susceptible to exposure. Because their bodies are growing, they absorb more lead than adults, and their brains and nervous systems are more sensitive to the effects of lead. Even low levels of lead in the blood of children can result in behavior and learning problems, lower IQ and increase hyperactivity, slow growth, and lead to hearing problems and anemia. Further, lead doesn’t leave the body, but is stored in bones and accumulates over time.

Likewise, elevated copper can lead to immediate and longterm health impacts, including vomiting, diarrhea, stomach cramps, nausea, liver damage and kidney disease. While the human body naturally maintains a proper level of copper, youngsters are more vulnerable to the toxic effects of copper. The EPA sets the federal action limit for copper at 1,300 ppb.

Due to a lack of specific regulations for lead and copper testing in schools, districts that do sample use varying limits to determine whether action is needed to lower the amount of lead. While the majority of districts responding to Downtown Publication’s testing survey refer to the federal action limit of 15 ppb for lead, some use the EPA’s recommended threshold of 20 ppb, with one (Birmingham) setting limits at 10 ppb. Both state and federal limits for copper levels are capped at 1,300 ppb.

Jenna Sendra, manager of the cleanWATER team for Arch Environmental Group in Farmington Hills, said the amount of sampling done at schools that do test varies from district to district. Arch conducts water sampling and testing for several Oakland County school districts, including Bloomfield Hills Schools, Birmingham Public Schools and South Lyon Community Schools.

Sendra said the variance from schools may be due to the state of flux with recommendations by the EPA, MDEQ and changes anticipated within the state.

“There are a lot of things changing and going on, from (maximum) levels and DEQ recommendations and revisions,” she said. “It’s a tough spot, where some districts want some information, such as a few samples at each building. Others want to do all of their drinking water locations. It’s a tough time because things change so much. You could do one thing, then it changes and you have to do another.

“It’s a battle of whether you do it now and have to do more later, or wait and see how the changes play out.”

School districts in Oakland County that have had water sampling conducted at least once in the past three years include districts in Berkley, Birmingham, Bloomfield Hills, Farmington, Huron Valley, Novi, Rochester, Royal Oak, South Lyon, Southfield, Troy and Cranbrook Education Community. School district officials in Avondale, The Roeper School, Waterford and West Bloomfield said the district will be testing facilities in August and September, respectively.

Annette McAvoy, communications supervisor for Avondale Schools, said in August that two buildings in the district were recently tested, with the remaining schools and facilities to be done after the start of the school year. Results from initial tests had not yet been returned to the district.

Birmingham Public Schools spokeswoman Marcia Wilkinson said the district tests for lead and other contaminants at each of the district’s schools throughout the year. The district earlier this year provided sampling results conducted in 2015 and three schools that were tested this year.

Steve King, manager of operations for the district, said the most recent sampling results for Meadow Lake (School) are from 2013 because it was through that the district was selling the building. “I have asked Arch Environmental to place Meadow Lake back in the cycle until we do actually sell the building,” he said.

According to sampling results provided by the district from Arch Environmental, the district uses a lead threshold of 10 ppb, half of what is recommended by the EPA and 5 ppb lower than that recommended by the DEQ. Testing locations include dozens, if not all, water fixtures in each of the schools, including drinking fountains, cafeteria and kitchen sinks, bathroom sinks, lounge sinks. All of the samples taken tested below 10 ppb for lead. The report didn’t indicate whether levels below 10 ppb were found at any sampling locations. Nor do results indicate any sampling for copper. Tests are also conducted for coliform and E-Coli at each of the buildings. Those samples all indicated no presence of contaminants.

Water samples in the Bloomfield Hills Schools district were taken in February at Bloomfield Hills High School, Bloomfield Hills Middle School, Bowers Academy, Conant Elementary, East Hills Middle School, Eastover Elementary School, Fox Hills School, International Academy, Lone Pine Elementary School, Way Elementary School, West Hills Middle School and Wing Lake School.

Water samples taken within the district were limited to drinking fountains and sinks that may commonly be used for drinking, as well as sinks closest to the building’s service connection. None of the samples tested for lead levels above the EPA’s recommended action level for schools. Overall, 35 samples taken showed no signs of lead at all, with 11 having levels ranging from 12 ppb to 1 ppb. The district didn’t sample for elevated copper.

Locations that tested positive for lead but below state and federal action levels were: (1 ppb) at a men’s room sink at Bowers Academy; at Conant Elementary School in a kitchen sink (1 ppb), a drinking fountain next to Room 206 (2 ppb) and a fountain across from Room 103 (1 ppb); at East Hills Elementary at a cafeteria prep sink (1 ppb) and a drinking fountain in the 7th Grade Wing (2 ppb); at Fox Hills School at a drinking fountain in the back of Room F (2 ppb) and a fountain in the back of Room M (12 ppb); at International Academy at a fountain next to the main office (3 ppb); at Lone Pine Elementary at a drinking fountain in the back of Room 13 (3 ppb); and at Way Elementary at a cafeteria prep sink (6 ppb).

Rochester Community Schools in February conducted water testing at all 21 schools and facilities in the district. While none of the initial tests for lead revealed levels above 15 ppb, one lab sink in a science room at Rochester High School tested at 9 ppb, prompting the district to shut off water to that wing of the building. Faucet fixtures in the room were replaced and additional tests were taken, said district spokeswoman Lori Grein.

“After consulting with experts, it was determined that the best course of action would be to install a recirculation pump in the laboratory wing to keep water moving through the pipes so lead cannot leach into the water,” Grein said.

Elevated copper levels exceeding the federal action level of 1,300 ppb were found in 39 of 63 samples conducted in March at Delta Kelly Elementary School. In response, the district disabled all drinking water sources at the school and provided students and staff with bottled water. Grein said DiHydro Services has since treated the copper plumbing with a food-grade solution to safeguard the water from contaminants. Subsequent testing in May was done, and all samples at the school were below the federal action level for both lead and copper.

“The safety and security of our children and staff is always a primary concern,” Grein said. “We will continue to remain proactive in our approach to ensure the water test results at Rochester Community Schools are well below the action level set by the Federal EPA Safe Drinking Water Act.

Sendra, with Arch Environmental, said mitigating copper problems is different than lead, as replacing old copper with new copper lines won’t necessarily resolve the issue.

Berkley Schools Superintendent Dennis McDavid in May notified parents that two of 22 tests conducted at the district tested positive for elevated levels of copper or lead. Those included a kitchen sink at Anderson Middle School that tested above 15 ppb for lead, as well as a kitchen sink at Avery Elementary School that was above the federal action level for copper.

“The fixtures on sinks were replaced and water samples retaken using the same method. The water coming from those sinks is now below the action level for both lead and copper,” McDavid said. “Out of an abundance of caution, we will conduct further tests on water outlets at Anderson.”

Diane Bauman, director of community relations for the Farmington Public Schools district, said testing in April revealed drinking fountains or sinks to have elevated lead levels in five buildings at the district. Bauman said the results were “very nominal” and were found in locations that are rarely used. A statement issued by district superintendent George Heitsch in April indicated the elevated levels were above the federal action level of 15 ppb, with the highest level found to be 37 ppb.

Cranbrook Educational Community Chief Operating Officer Rod Spearin said water sampling has been conducted throughout the campus for about 10 years, focusing primarily on lead, arsenic and E-Coli.

He said all the results have been below any government limits on contaminants.

Spearin said about 10 locations on campus are tested each year, which may include school buildings, dormitories, the Academy of Art, Institute of Science and administration buildings. 

Huron Valley Schools spokeswoman Kim Root said water sampling conducted in March included two to seven samples at each school and support building in the district. Complete results of the tests, which are available on the district’s website, indicated elevated lead levels at two locations at Milford High School. Those locations included a drinking fountain near a women’s restroom and a custodial sink. Both fixtures have been taken out of service.

Milford High School is one of more than 30 schools in Oakland County that receives water from its own well, rather than a public water supply, and is therefore required to test for lead and copper under federal law. Additional schools in the Huron Valley district that are required to conduct water samples include Highland Elementary School, Apollo Center, Spring Mills Elementary School, Duck Lake Continuing Education Center, Oxbow Elementary School, Oak Valley/Country Oaks and Heritage Elementary School.

According to the DEQ, additional schools required to sample for lead and copper include: Glengary Elementary School, in White Lake; Upland Hills School, in Oxford; Leonard Elementary School, in White Lake; Bailey Lake Elementary School, in Clarkston; Dixie Baptist, in Ortonville; Oakland Schools Technical Campus, in Clarkston; Andersonville Elementary, in Clarkston; Lakeland High School, White Lake Middle School and Lakewood Elementary, all in White Lake; West Highland Christian School, in Milford; Davisburg Elementary, in Holly; Harvey Swanson Elementary, in Ortonville; Brandon Fletcher, in Ortonville; Rochester College, in Rochester Hills; Clear Lake Elementary, in White Lake; Hamilton-Parsons Elementary, in Leonard; Brooks Elementary, in Highland; Springfield Plains, in Clarkston; Rose Pioneer Elementary, in Holly; Brandon Middle School, in Ortonville; Oakview School, in Lake Orion; and Oakwood Elementary, in Ortonville.

Dan Abrams, a special advisor and spokesman for the EPA’s headquarters in Washington D.C., said a total of 7,063 schools in the country are subject to the federal Lead and Copper Rule because they own and operate their own water systems.

Abrams said sampling data of those schools in Michigan is required to be reported to the Michigan DEQ. Although the EPA maintains a searchable database of records under the Safe Drinking Water Information System, the information available may not be easily understood by the general public. Detailed water sampling reports, he said, should be available from the state agency responsible for maintaining and enforcing the law on behalf of the EPA, which in Michigan is the DEQ. 

Requests for further sampling details from the MDEQ weren’t readily available or provided without a substantial fee through the Freedom of Information Act.

Novi Schools Superintendent Steve Matthews said the district samples drinking water in the district every two years, with the most recent tests conducted in 2014. Those samples included 24 tests for lead and 24 for copper throughout the district. Matthews said none of the results exceeded the EPA’s action level for lead or copper. Tests will be conducted again later this year, he said.

The Roeper School, in Bloomfield Hills and Birmingham, is currently in the process of procuring a vendor to conduct testing at its buildings, said Kari Papadopoulos, director of communications and marketing for The Roeper School.

Royal Oak Schools Superintendent Shawn Lewis-Lakin said the district has sampled three buildings a year so that the entire district of nine schools is on a three-year rotation of testing.

“Because of the attention now being given to water quality, we tested all nine of our buildings over the past year. As we move forward, we plan to test annually,” he said. “DiHydro services conducts the testing for Royal Oak Schools. They test cold water fixtures that are commonly used for human consumption (drinking fountains, bubbler, kitchen fixtures). They test under normal use conditions.

“All of our results were below EPA standards for both lead and copper.”

South Lyon Schools Assistant Superintendent Maureen Altermatt said the district conducted water sampling this spring. The testing, which included 45 samples in K-12 buildings and three samples in the Early Childhood Center, cost the district about $6,000. The sampling included all drinking fountains and kitchen sinks.

Altermatt said two samples had elevated lead levels in excess of the EPA’s action level.

“Arch Environmental collected follow-up samples from the two locations with elevated lead to if determine the source of lead contamination is from the fixture or interior plumbing,” she said. “They said the two fixtures are likely the culprit of higher lead. The fixtures will be replaced, and in the mean time, they continue to be shut off and not used in any capacity.”

The Southfield Public School District failed to respond, but information about the water sampling conducted in April is available on the district’s website. According to the findings, four of 67 samples taken at the district’s 17 schools and facilities tested above the EPA’s action level for lead, while none tested above the action level for copper.

A second round of testing was conducted to determine the source of the contamination. Results from follow-up tests conducted in May weren’t available in the report.

Initial results at the four locations that had elevated levels of lead included levels as low as 18 ppb, with a sink and drinking fountain testing at 130 ppb. Signage was placed at one sink faucet to indicate the water isn’t suitable for drinking, with the three other fixtures taken out of commission until the issue is resolved, Superintendent Lynda Wood said in the report.

Troy School District Director of Communications Kerry Birmingham said the district regularly tests for lead and copper, as well as other contaminants, such as air testing for radon and other pollutants.

“We have a regular schedule to test more things than lead and copper, but we did extensive testing recently,” she said. “May was the last time we tested, and we tested for lead and copper at that time in every building in the district.

The testing included hundreds of drinking fountains and sinks throughout the district. Overall, she said sampling revealed four drinking fountains that exceeded federal guidelines, including three for lead and one for copper. All of the fountains, she said, were taken out of commission. Additional testing revealed the contamination was coming from the fixtures themselves and not the building’s larger plumbing system.

Kerry Birmingham said the entire testing process took several months to complete, due to the large number of fixtures in the district. Following initial results of testing, she said water fountains at all buildings are flushed for three minutes prior to the start of school each day.

“This will eliminate students and staff from drinking water that has been sitting in the fountains, which has the highest risk for any contaminants,” she said.

Kerry Birmingham said fountains found to have elevated levels of lead or copper have since been replaced.

Waterford Schools Superintendent Keith Wunderlich said the district recently awarded a contract for testing across all the district’s buildings. He said in late July that testing would be done in August.

“Waterford is fortunate because we are just completing $100 million in bond construction that has upgraded all of our facilities, including pipes, restrooms and drinking fountains.”

He said testing will include about 1,500 fixtures at nine elementary buildings, two middle schools, two high schools, an early childhood center, an alternative high school and some specialized education locations.

“At $42 each, we’re looking at an expense of $63,000,” Wunderlich said. “Back when many of our buildings were on wells, we tested the water multiple times annually. Now that all of our buildings use water from Waterford Township, we receive water testing reports from the township regularly. The township does an excellent job of ensuring we receive high water quality.”

Districts that rely solely on consumer confidence water quality reports issued by local municipalities receive limited information about lead and copper, as such reports represent only a fraction of consumer taps in the community, and don’t include any schools.

Based on interviews with water providers and local public works departments responsible for sampling included in such reports, there is a complete disconnect of information between school districts and report findings.

Cheryl Porter, chief operating officer for the Great Lakes Water Authority (GLWA), said most water sampling used to verify lead and copper levels in consumer confidence reports are conducted by local municipalities. In general, Porter said lead and copper samples used by the GLWA are used to determine how to better understand how to formulate corrosion control measures of water when it leaves the treatment facility. Further, she said she was under the belief that school districts are required to meet more stringent requirements under the law.

Under the federal Lead and Copper Rule, 90 percent of customers in a particular community must have water that is below the federal action limit of 15 ppb, meaning that up to 10 percent of a community may receive water with lead levels above that concentration.

Municipalities conducting sampling to meet the federal rule are required to test high risk homes, starting with those that have lead service lines, followed by those with copper lines with the potential for lead solder, if available.

Despite recommendations by the EPA, it’s apparent there remains some confusion about how to meet the law. For instance, Rochester Public Works Director David Anason said the city tests for lead and copper at several locations in the city, but indicated the sampling procedures don’t coincide with EPA recommendations.

“We have to follow certain measures,” he said. “You have to run the water for a certain amount of time and remove the aerators out of the faucet,” he said, which is a direct contradiction to EPA guidelines of the law.

In Rochester Hills, with a population of more than 72,000, a total of 13 locations were tested in 2014 for lead and copper in order to meet federal requirements. Public Works Director Allan Schneck confirmed one of those homes included a long-time city employee, but said that employee’s home was chosen at random and not intentionally. According to real estate records, the home was constructed in 1986, indicating it shouldn’t have lead plumbing or lead solder connections.

Because there is no federal or state requirement for lead and copper testing in schools, voluntary measures are currently the best indicator of contamination for local school districts.

West Bloomfield Schools Director of Communications Pam Zajac said while the district doesn’t have a regular water testing schedule, it was scheduled to conduct its first round of sampling in August.

“Going forward, a regularly scheduled testing protocol is under consideration, depending on test results and potential compliance requirements that have not yet become law.”

To date, the only statewide effort in Michigan to require schools to conduct lead and copper testing was made in January, when state Sen. Rick Jones (R-Grand Ledge) introduced SB 724. The bill proposed that a public water supplier must collect water samples from drinking faucets at public and nonpublic schools in the state and have them analyzed for lead and copper contamination.

“My logic was that children are a very precious asset in the future of Michigan, and we want to make sure they have safe drinking water,” Jones said of the proposal, which has yet to be taken up by committee since being introduced. “We wanted a mandate that all water sources be checked. Anything that is consumed.”

Jones said it’s his understanding that the bill hasn’t been taken up because the governor is seeking a more comprehensive package to address the issue.

In April, Governor Rick Snyder announced the need for a series of reforms to improve on the federal Lead and Copper Rule in the state.

“The federal Lead and Copper Rule needs to be improved immediately. It’s dumb and dangerous and in Michigan, we aren’t going to wait for the federal government to fix it anymore,” Snyder said in April. “We need to move forward with these reforms so we can better protect the health and safety of all Michiganders.”

Snyder spokeswoman Anna Heaton said the reforms must now be introduced in the legislature.

“There is not a lot of movement,” she said. “We are hoping in the fall there will be more pickup on that.”

Amber McCann, spokeswoman for Ottawa County Republican and Senate Majority Leader Arlan Meekhof, who chairs the committee where Jones’s bill has stalled, confirmed the assessment of the bill’s history. McCann said proposals are awaiting a final report from the Joint Committee on the Flint Water Public Health Emergency. That committee last met in May.

At the county level, Oakland County Board of Commissioners member David Woodward (D-Royal Oak) and Marcia Gershenson (D-Bloomfield Township) earlier this year introduced a resolution to establish the Oakland County Kids' Safe Drinking Water Fund to encourage all schools, childhood learning centers and childcare facilities to test drinking water. Under the proposal, the county would contribute $500,000 from its general fund balance to the drinking water fund, which would be made available for testing. Currently, the proposal is in committee.

"We need to fix it, and we have the resources to do that," Woodward said of the lead-in-water issue.

Meanwhile, measures at the federal level to improve the Lead and Copper Rule or establishing additional measures to conduct sampling at schools isn’t expected anytime soon.

“The only thing the EPA understands is that when kids are poisoned, they understand that it looks bad, but they refuse to do anything to stop it from happening,” said Edwards of Virginia Tech. “That was their attitude in Flint and (Washington) DC, and today in Philadelphia. By the time it was done, we spent a quarter million dollars to do what these agencies were supposed to do.”

Ultimately, Edwards said, communities at risk of lead poisoning have to take measures on their own to test water, as was done in Flint. Residents and districts with lead plumbing are essentially left on their own. As for meaningful reforms, he said — they aren’t likely.

“One has to keep fighting and hope,” he said. “Failure is not an option here. People are getting hurt, but I will believe it when I see it.” ­

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