Cities sue to block strict lead rule

Would Flint have poisoned itself without the state’s help? It’s hard to say; maybe we will know when all the criminal and civil trials have completed their slow but fine grind through the court system.

But other cities, including Detroit, want judicial permission to keep feeding lead to their residents.

As promised by Gov. Rick Snyder, Michigan now has the most stringent rules in the nation for lead and copper contamination of drinking water. That was driven by the Flint water fiasco and his administration’s role in it.

Because there is no safe level of lead in drinking water, Michigan is the first state to mandate that all lead service lines between water mains and customers be replaced, to prohibit replacing only part of a lead service line except in an emergency, and to require water utilities to pay for new lines.

For municipalities with large — and sometimes unknown — numbers of such outdated and dangerous lead pipes, the new rule is a daunting and unfunded mandate. Tens of millions has been spent in Flint removing toxic lead service lines. Requiring Detroit to do the same would require many more millions of dollars.

But what is the alternative? Leave those lead-lined time bombs buried in Detroit families’ front yards and hope the next blunder doesn’t unleash another public health emergency, this time in Michigan’s largest city?

Detroit isn’t alone. It and more than 50 other cities, from Rochester to Rogers City and Clare to Clawson, are suing to overturn the new standard. Detroit is lobbying other municipalities and water systems to sign on.

It’s about the cost. We understand that. We also know that the long-term cost of futures dimmed by childhood lead exposure is incalculably larger.

The lawsuit might not even be necessary. The lame duck Legislature, before it leaves Lansing and ends its frenzy of malfeasance, may have already legalized harming children and families with lead-tainted drinking water.

It passed a bill prohibiting Michigan from adopting regulations more stringent than federal standards, which we assume would apply here. But the governor hasn’t signed it yet. He has vetoed similar legislation in the past, and it seems irrational and improbable that he would sign a law again connecting his name and Flint.

And the legislation includes an out. Michigan can protect its citizens better than other states if regulators establish a “clear and convincing need to adopt the more stringent rule.”

There is no safe level for lead in drinking water. That, and the young, growing minds of Michigan’s future, is a clear and convincing need.

— Times Herald (Port Huron)

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