NEMWI provided a comment last week on the proposed revisions to the Michigan Lead and Copper Rule (LCR) by the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality (MDEQ).

The Flint water crisis exposed the shortcomings of the federal LCR standard, initiating calls for a substantial revision. USEPA has twice postponed the deadline for the proposed revisions, and it is now expected to be released in the Fall of 2018. Meanwhile, MDEQ has proposed revisions to the state’s LCR, and if finalized, Michigan’s LCR standard would be more stringent than the federal standard.

The most prominent revisions, among several others, include:

  1. The household lead action level for the 90th percentile sample would be revised from the current 15 parts per billion (ppb) to 10 ppb, beginning in 2024.
  2. When public water systems exceed the 90th percentile limit of 5 ppb, they would be required to draw an action plan to remove 5% of their lead service lines (LSLs) annually. Other public water systems would be required to address LSLs as part of their asset management plans. MDEQ estimates that the LSL removal alone would cost $500 million.

In its comment, NEMWI commended MDEQ for taking action, but raised several questions that are not adequately addressed in the Regulatory Impact Statement and Cost-Benefit Analysis accompanying the proposed regulation. Some of them include:

  1. MDEQ has failed to address what course of action would be followed if the federal LCR’s to-be proposed revisions differ from or exceed the proposed Michigan standard.
  2. MDEQ does not provide adequate justification for arriving at the household lead action level of 10 ppb, nor the 5 ppb exceedance limit for public water systems. Public health advocates such as the Environmental Defense Fund, have proposed much lower limits, taking into account the age of the child, the year of home construction, and presence of lead in dust or soil.
  3. MDEQ estimates that 100,000 LSLs would need replacement under this proposed regulation. This assertion is also unsupported by evidence. To the contrary, a national survey of LSL occurrence estimated 460,000 LSLs in Michigan. Given MDEQ’s own goal to eliminate all LSLs, this proposed revision falls substantially short.

In addition, MDEQ has not yet identified funding sources to execute this regulation. In its comment, NEMWI requested MDEQ and the Michigan legislature to explore ways to pay for the rule’s implementation, so that poor communities and residents are not overly burdened.

Although states can impose standards that are stringent than the national standards, no state has done so in the case of LCR. If these revisions are finalized, Michigan would have the nation’s highest LCR standards. NEMWI commends MDEQ for being proactive and setting an example for other states in the NEMW region that are similarly dealing with high levels of lead in drinking water. However, MDEQ’s failure to address several questions is not only a key omission in the regulatory process, but a threat to the stability of the proposed regulation.

The full comment submitted by the Institute is available here.

For more information, contact Dr. Sridhar Vedachalam, Director of the Safe Drinking Water Policy and Research Program at the Northeast-Midwest Institute.