Whitmer administration takes action to protect drinking water at Michigan schools 

By Kyle Kaminski

February 21, 2024

Legislation signed into law by Gov. Gretchen Whitmer aims to protect children from lead contamination—namely by installing water filters at every child care center and school. 

MICHIGAN—State regulators are gearing up to protect Michigan kids from dirty drinking water after state lawmakers passed (and Gov. Gretchen Whitmer signed) three bills last year that require schools and child care centers to install water filters on their water faucets.

The legislation Whitmer signed into law last year—known as the “Filter First” bills—will require all schools and daycare centers to install water filters and develop a drinking water “management plan” before the end of the 2025-26 school year. And every year thereafter, they’ll also be required to test samples to help ensure their drinking water is safe for Michigan kids.

“Every parent wants to make sure their children are safe, and the Filter First bills will protect access to clean drinking water at school,” Whitmer said in a statement this month. “In Michigan, we know how important it is to protect our kids at school. With Filter First, we are taking action so all our kids have access to safe drinking water so they can focus on learning in class.”

This month, the Michigan Department of Environment, Great Lakes, and Energy released a new Filter First web page that provides more information about the upcoming requirements for schools and child care centers, with additional guidance set to be released before the summer.

State officials said the early planning is designed to give schools the necessary time to install filters and assemble a drinking water management plan before the legislation goes into effect. 

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 as part of the recent legislation—including funding for the one-time purchase and installation of bottle filling stations, water coolers, and faucet filters.

An online training session for schools and child care centers is also scheduled for 9 a.m. on April 10, which will include more details about how to apply for and access that state funding. 

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 last year. “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.”

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention states that no safe blood lead level has been identified in children. Still, studies have long shown that Michigan has tracked some of the highest rates in the US for its percentage of kids who have elevated lead levels in their blood. 

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 last year, Bridge Michigan reports

“No amount of lead in water is safe. It’s a public health issue, an environmental issue and an equity issue,” state Rep. Ranjeev Puri (D-Canton) said in a statement. “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: Michigan invests more federal funds to protect clean drinking water

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Author

  • 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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