New ‘Filter First’ laws to protect Michigan kids from dirty drinking water

A student walks in the hallway past a water fountain at Noble School in Detroit on Sept. 4, 2018. (AP Photo/Paul Sancya)

By Kyle Kaminski

October 19, 2023

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer signed bipartisan bills designed to protect children from lead contamination by requiring the installation of water filters in childcare centers and schools.

MICHIGAN—Gov. Gretchen Whitmer signed three bills into law this week that will require Michigan schools and child care centers to install water filters on faucets and conduct routine testing for potential lead contamination in their drinking water.

“Every parent wants to make sure their kids are healthy, and today’s bills ensure that our kids have safe and clean drinking water when they sip from the drinking fountain,” Whitmer said in a statement. “In Michigan, we have seen the devastating and long-lasting impact of lead exposure, and we are committed to making sure no child has to suffer through this again.”

The legislation signed into law this week—referred to as the “Filter First Bills”—requires all schools and daycare centers in Michigan to install filtered faucets and develop a “drinking water management plan” before the end of the 2025-26 school year. Every year thereafter, they will also be required to conduct sampling and testing to ensure their water is safe for children.

The new laws reportedly make Michigan the first state in the nation to impose the requirements, which are expected to cost schools at least $65 million to implement over the next year. State lawmakers already set aside $50 million to help buy them as part of a spending deal last year.

State Rep. Cynthia Neeley (D-Flint), who sponsored one of the bills, said that the city of Flint paid an “unimaginable price” for water contamination, which prompted her and other Democratic lawmakers to push for legislation that focuses on ensuring children have access to clean water.

“We must take steps to protect Michiganders from harmful contaminants—especially our kids,“ Neeley said in a statement. “Lead poisoning can have devastating effects on the health and development of our kids. Having a drinking water management plan ensures the most up-to-date strategies and tools are in place to ensure safe water sources.”

Studies have shown that Michigan has some of the highest rates in the US for its percentage of children who have elevated lead levels in their blood, which is known to cause brain damage.

The state government has not traditionally required water testing, but high lead levels found at a majority of the 114 Michigan schools and childcare centers that voluntarily tested between 2020 and 2022 pushed state lawmakers to take action on the issue this year, Bridge Michigan reports.

“No amount of lead in water is safe for kids. It’s a public health issue, an environmental issue and an equity issue,” said state Rep. Ranjeev Puri (D-Canton). “As parents in the Great Lakes State—surrounded by an abundance of fresh water—the least we can expect is that the place we send our children every day to learn and play is safe and has clean drinking water.”

READ MORE: Whitmer strikes deal to solve long-running water dispute in Highland Park

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  • Kyle Kaminski

    Kyle Kaminski is an award-winning investigative journalist with more than a decade of experience covering news across Michigan. Prior to joining The ‘Gander, Kyle worked as the managing editor at City Pulse in Lansing and as a reporter for the Traverse City Record-Eagle.

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