Michigan Proposes Stricter Standard on Lead, Replacing Lead Pipes Statewide

Posted on December 12, 2017 by

Image: From left to right, a lead pipe, a corroded steel pipe, and a lead pipe treated with protective orthophosphate.

In the wake of the Flint Water Crisis and an increasing amount of attention being paid to the nation’s degrading infrastructure, the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) has put forth a proposal to lower the amount of lead permissible in Michigan water systems.

The Lead and Copper Rule (LCR) in Michigan currently matches the federal standard for lead of 15 parts per billion (ppb) that was established in 1991. Before that time, the standard was 50 ppb. The DEQ has proposed lowering that standard to 10 ppb and requiring municipalities to replace the lead pipes in their water systems over the next 20 years.

The primary purpose of regulations like the LCR is to limit or eliminate exposures to metals, bacteria, and chemicals considered harmful to human health. These rules also dictate how water systems must test for contaminants, report the results to the public, and address any violations.

Small quantities of some contaminants are allowed in municipal water if—given the available evidence and scientific knowledge at the time—it is considered to be safe, meaning the amount is too small to have a negative effect or the human body is able to process and eliminate such a small quantity.  

The issue with the current standard on lead is that there is no safe exposure for humans. Even small amounts are linked to severe health complications, especially in children, infants, and fetuses. In adults, exposure to can lead to increased blood pressure, hypertension, decreased kidney function, and reproductive problems.

Even low levels of lead in the blood of children can result in:

  • Behavior and learning problems
  • Lower IQ and hyperactivity
  • Learning disabilities
  • Slowed growth, shorter stature
  • Impaired hearing
  • Anemia, impaired function and formation of blood cells

Lead is bioaccumulative, meaning it does not break down in the environment and builds up in the body over time.

Freshwater Future supports the DEQ’s proposed rule change and proposed requirement for water systems across the state to replace lead service lines. Our organization, alongside community and environmental groups across the state, submitted comments to the DEQ requesting key revisions to ensure that the rule change has the maximum positive impact on public health. We collectively requested the following:

  1. A prohibition on partial lead service line replacements
    • Under certain circumstances, partial replacements have been shown to increase lead levels in the short- and long-term.
  2. A requirement that only copper pipes may be used to replace lead service lines rather than plastic.
  3. Thorough public education on the proper use and maintenance of filters to prevent lead exposure during pipe replacement.
  4. Special consideration for households with detectable lead levels (above 0) during pipe replacement.
    • Including: government-provided filters, proper education on how to use and maintain those filters, bottled water, and priority status for line replacement.
  5. Moving the timeline for the new 10 ppb standard earlier to December 31, 2020.
  6. Prioritization of high-risk sites for lead service line replacement.
  7. A requirement that corrosion control studies be completed before a water system changes their source of water or water treatment process.

It’s important to remember that the rule is still being negotiated and will most likely change in the upcoming weeks and months. We’ll stay on top of it and publish more information as the process continues.


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Images courtesy of Steven Huyser-Honig,
West Grand Boulevard Collaborative, & Yellow Dog Watershed Preserve.