By ERIC FREEDMAN
Capital News Service
LANSING — The controversy about elevated levels of lead in Flint’s drinking water has sparked significant concern about water quality across Michigan, a new statewide poll shows.
More than 90 percent of those surveyed want the state to examine urban water systems for indications of faulty infrastructure and 84 percent want the state to test the water in public schools at least annually.
Meanwhile on a second environmental issue, widespread publicity about autonomous cars has directed public attention to questions about the safety of driverless vehicles.
Despite qualms about safety, however, a majority of those polled “accept that this will be how people get around in the near future,” according to a Nov. 3-5 telephone survey of 600 Michigan adults. The poll, taken of people who said they expect to vote in the November 2016 election, has a margin of error of 4 percent.
The survey was done for the independent public policy research firm Public Sector Consultants and Ann Arbor-based Michigan Public Radio.
Water quality has risen in public visibility after the discovery earlier this year that the amount of lead in the tap water exceeded safe levels in some Flint schools and homes.
The problem arose after the financially troubled city switched from the more expensive Detroit water system to drawing water from the Flint River. That water proved corrosive and released lead when it came into contact with lead in service lines, pipes and solder, health officials said.
The situation triggered a public health emergency, accusations of lax monitoring by the Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ), last month’s reelection defeat of Mayor Dayne Walling and a lawsuit by Flint residents against the city. In addition, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency announced an audit of Michigan’s drinking water program.
DEQ acknowledged in a statement that it had been confused about the relevant federal regulations, saying, “What has become clear in recent weeks is that staff believed they were handling the situation in accordance with the proper protocol for a water provider using a new source, but … they were not.”
The city plans to get its water from Lake Huron, possibly starting in the summer of 2016.
In the newly released survey, 46 percent of those questioned said they are very concerned or somewhat concerned about the safety of the water in their own homes.
Ninety-one percent said it’s somewhat important or very important that the state “examine the water systems in other densely populated areas for signs of failing water infrastructure.”
In addition, 54.5 percent advocated annual testing of school water and another 29.3 percent favored more frequent testing. Currently, school water is tested only at the request of school districts, according to Selma Tucker, the director of marketing and communications at Public Sector Consultants.
There were demographic differences in the polling results. For example, whites and Republicans were less concerned than African Americans and Democrats, the survey found, while participants in Detroit and elsewhere in Wayne County were more concerned than Michigan residents elsewhere.
As for driverless cars, less than a third of those surveyed said they were very comfortable or somewhat comfortable about having them on the state’s roads. Slightly more than half described themselves as very uncomfortable with the idea.
And asked about safety, 27 percent of participants said they think autonomous cars would make driving safer or much safer. In contrast, about 56 percent said they would be more dangerous than cars driven by people.
Despite such widely held qualms, those surveyed sounded resigned to the eventual advent of driverless cars. More than a quarter predicted they’ll be common five to 10 years from now, and another 31 percent predicted they’d be common 10 to 20 years in the future.
In releasing the survey, Public Sector Consultants and Michigan Public Radio said, “That buys humanity at least a few years to figure out how to prevent the cyborg invasion that is sure to follow.”
ADDITIONAL RESOURCES FOR CNS EDITORS
Public Sector Consultants/Michigan Public Radio survey results: http://pscinc.com/LinkClick.aspx?fileticket=a2cLR1tkefY%3d&tabid=75.
By ERIC FREEDMAN