New Law Requires Lead Water Filters in Michigan Schools, Daycares

Children need safe drinking water to stay hydrated, happy, and healthy. Yet sadly, many are exposed to lead in drinking water at school and daycares, which are supposed to be safe spaces for kids to learn and play daily. In light of this, Michigan recently approved a “Filter First” legislation requiring these facilities to install lead-removing water filters to protect kids’ health.

It’s a positive first step toward a lead-free future for the youngest among us, and hopefully, all other states will follow suit. Keep reading as we look closer at Michigan’s new laws and how they seek to combat lead in drinking water at schools and childcare centers. Also, stick around as we share some simple and practical steps to help you protect yourself and your kids from lead possibly in your home’s water supply.

How Do Michigan’s New Laws Aim to Combat Lead Contamination in Schools and Daycares?

Michigan’s Lead Testing Requirements for Young Children

The new Michigan law on lead tests for minors is a set of two bills signed into law on Oct. 3, 2023. The new state laws, which go into effect on Jan. 1, 2024, aim to “protect young children from lead poisoning.”

Under these new laws:

  • Michigan physicians treating one- and two-year-old toddlers must test their blood for lead.
  • All four-year-olds in Michigan must be tested if they live in a part of the state where they face increased risk for childhood lead poisoning.
  • Minors must also be tested regularly if they face a high risk for lead poisoning, such as living in a home built before 1978 or living with other children diagnosed with lead poisoning.
  • A separate bill signed into law would create space on a child’s immunization certificate to indicate whether the minor has undergone a lead poisoning test.

While not mandatory, the law incentivizes parents and guardians to comply by offering free testing, adding test results to vaccination records for school enrollment, and educational outreach programs.

About Michigan’s “Filter First” Law for Schools, Childcare Centers

Of course, testing water alone would not be enough to protect Michigan kids from lead. So, a little under a month later (on Oct. 19, 2023, to be exact), Michigan lawmakers signed a trio of bills to combat dangerous levels of lead in drinking water at schools and childcare centers statewide.

These standards aim to actually get the lead out of water by filtering it first rather than trying to test every water outlet in the school multiple times yearly to determine if there is episodic lead contamination.

Let’s examine how Michigan legislators intend to achieve this crucial goal. A press release by the NRDC (the Natural Resources Defense Council) shares some key insights:

  • Under the new “Filter First” law, schools and childcare centers must “install lead-removing filtered drinking water fountains and, in certain situations, on tap filters, and ensure that non-filtered outlets are removed or designated as not safe for consumption.”
  • It will also “mandate post-filtration drinking water testing to ensure the filters are working. No pre-filtration testing is required, thus ensuring dollars are used to solve the problem by installing protective barriers between kids and lead.”
  • Facilities would have to immediately shutter a water outlet post signage and begin taking other steps if a water test shows lead above five parts per billion (ppb). Testing must occur every one to two years.
  • Schools and daycares must review and update drinking water management plans every five years.
  • “Create a fund in the Department of Treasury to assist schools and daycares with filtered water stations and filter acquisition and installation, maintenance, and post-filtration sampling costs.”

These new laws come after a national report by the Environment America Research and Policy Center and the U.S. Public Research Interest Group Education Fund gave Michigan and many other states an ‘F’ grade regarding laws and regulations to combat lead contamination of school drinking water.

Is Lead a Threat for All Schools and Daycares in America?

Lead in drinking water isn’t only a problem in Michigan. In fact, Environment America states that, “Most schools have at least some lead in their pipes, plumbing or fixtures. And so, as more schools test their water, they are finding widespread lead contamination,” as seen in their interactive map.

Furthermore, the EPA estimates that approximately 98,000 public schools and 500,000 childcare facilities are not regulated under the Safe Drinking Water Act (SDWA). So, it’s up to these unregulated facilities to test their water supply, which often leaves many schools vulnerable to contamination with no regulation or requirement to test or disclose any information to parents or the community.

How Does Lead Get into School Drinking Water?

School drinking water usually doesn’t leave the treatment plant tainted with lead. The water often picks up the metal as it travels through the nation’s estimated 9.2 million lead service lines and internal lead pipes and plumbing in buildings, including schools.

Corrosion-riddled lead pipes and fixtures increase the risk of bits of lead breaking away and entering the water as it passes through the water system. The lead can then react with acidic or low-mineral level water to the point where it dissolves, enters the water supply, and contaminates it. Finally, school water systems likely deliver water through old lead-bearing faucets, fountains, and internal plumbing for children to drink.

Why is Lead Exposure So Dangerous for Young Kids?

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), young kids are particularly vulnerable to lead poisoning because they absorb 4–5 times as much ingested lead as adults from a given source. Plus, the EPA notes that “The physical and behavioral effects of lead occur at lower exposure levels in children than in adults. A dose of lead that would have little effect on an adult can have a significant effect on a child.”

Even small amounts of lead can affect kids’ mental and physical development. It may also cause severe adverse health problems, as children’s bodies are still developing critical functions and are more fragile and sensitive. This explains why the EPA’s maximum contaminant level goal (MCLG) for lead is zero—not just for kids but just about anyone.

Another toxic trait of lead is that it can slowly build up in the body over time without any detectable symptoms. Sometimes, symptoms only appear after high concentrations have accumulated in the body. This makes it difficult for parents and doctors to know if children are subject to long-term lead poisoning until they have consumed dangerous amounts.

Once exposed, children may experience the following symptoms:

  • Damage to the brain and nervous system
  • Impaired formation and function of blood cells
  • Hearing and speech problems
  • Learning and behavioral problems
  • Slowed growth and development
  • Other health problems like constipation, vomiting, and fatigue
  • Lower IQ, hyperactivity, reduced attention span, and poor performance in school
  • Seizures, coma, and even death (in rare cases)

There is also evidence that exposure to lead during childhood can cause long-term effects, even after kids are no longer exposed to it.

How to Know if Your Drinking Water at Home Contains Lead

As many U.S. public schools continue to combat lead in their drinking water, you can do your part by ensuring the water your kids drink at home is lead-free. Since you can’t see, taste, or smell dissolved lead in water, you’ll need to find out if it’s actually in your water and, if so, how to remove it.

Here’s the first step (we’ll cover step two in the next section):

Request the latest water quality report from your water provider.

The EPA requires all community water systems to prepare and deliver an annual water quality report called a Consumer Confidence Report (CCR) for their customers by July 1 each year. So, if your water comes from a municipality and you get a monthly bill, contact your utility and ask for a copy of their latest report.

But what if your water comes from a household well or other private water supply? The EPA recommends that you “check with your health department, or with any nearby water utilities that use groundwater, for information on contaminants of concern in your area.”

Learn more: How to Read Your Water Quality Report: Helpful Tips and Expert Advice

Get your tap water tested for lead.

Even if your water quality report suggests your drinking water is lead-free, it’s still essential to have it tested. Why? Because your home’s internal plumbing materials may contain lead that can ultimately contaminate your drinking water. Testing your drinking water is the only sure way to know if it contains harmful quantities of lead.

Some cities offer free lead testing to the public. However, if you prefer independent testing, you can test your water at home with a test kit or send it to a certified laboratory for testing. We recommend the second option, though slightly more expensive. You should be able to get a list of certified laboratories from your state or local drinking water authority. You can also check the EPA website for an accredited lab to perform the testing.

About Laboratory Testing

Laboratory testing often involves purchasing a water test kit, submitting a water sample from your tap to the laboratory, and awaiting the results. This option is often far more accurate than at-home testing and gives you a deeper look into your water quality. This means it can detect more than lead but tens or hundreds of other potentially toxic contaminants possibly lurking in your drinking water. Most labs will provide a complete, easy-to-understand water report with actionable, personalized recommendations.

Learn more: 10 Common Problems a Water Test Can Detect in Tap Water

How to Protect Your Kids from Lead-Contaminated Water at Home

Since the federal government hasn’t required schools and childcare centers to test for lead ( though it has awarded grants to states for voluntary testing), the drinking water at your kids’ schools and childcare facilities likely contains lead.

So, we urge you to instruct your child not to drink water from fountains and other school water stations that haven’t been identified as safe. Instead, please give them a reusable water container they can fill at home and bring to school. These bottles should be made from food-grade materials that are BPA-free.

Filter lead from your home’s water supply.

As your kids will now be drinking water from home, you must ensure it is free of lead and other potentially toxic elements. If you’ve identified lead in your home’s water supply through a water test, various home filters can remove lead. Examples include specialized lead removal filter systems and reverse osmosis systems.

Consider replacing lead pipes and plumbing if you can afford to.

Do you have any lead-containing pipes and plumbing fixtures in your home? That’s likely the case if your home was built before 1986 or uses older plumbing and fixtures. However, a certified plumber may be able to help if you cannot find this out yourself. If it turns out that you do have lead pipes or fixtures in your home, you may need to replace them or the entire plumbing system if necessary. Otherwise, a water filter will temporarily fix your lead contamination issues.

Contact City Officials and Legislators.

If you discover that the pipe carrying water to your home from the street contains lead, do not remove that service line. It’s the city’s job to remove and replace the entire length of the lead service line because replacing only part of it could cause lead levels to increase.

Reach out to your state and city’s relevant officials and legislators and express your concerns. Let them know that your city’s lead levels are unacceptable, especially given the risk to the vulnerable population. Finally, urge them to fund future water infrastructure improvement projects.

Final Thoughts

Lead contamination in schools is a serious issue that we certainly can’t ignore. Every day, lead exposure puts kids at risk of severe behavioral and health problems, and we at Springwell offer our best wishes and support to those affected. We also commend Michigan’s state officials’ bold action on the issue. But while there has been much progress in recent years, there is still a long way to go.

For instance, lead exposure below the federal action limit is still known to be dangerous, but no one is obligated to address it. Therefore, you must first educate yourself about your water supply. Does your water contain lead or are you and your kids traveling to an area where lead contamination is prevalent? Next, evaluate your filtration needs.

Reverse osmosis filters and systems designed specifically for lead removal should help reduce lead levels in your drinking water. So, if you are worried that you or someone you know is drinking water contaminated with lead, please feel free to browse our selection of premium water filters.

If you need help choosing the ideal filter for your needs and budget, give us a call at 800-589-5592 and one of our friendly experts will assist you.