By LAURA BOHANNON
Capital News Service
LANSING — Bills in the House and Senate would tighten water sampling practices to improve detection of dangerous elements such as lead.
Among the changes proposed would be to eliminate “preflushing” when taking a water sample. Preflushing is the practice of leaving cold water running for a few minutes the night before taking a water sample.
Opponents of the practice say running water before testing it does not match how people actually consume water day-to-day.
Preflushing “flushes” out the lead that’s stored in a pipe or faucet and as a result, some lead might not be detected in a sample, Robert Gordon, lead lobbyist for the Michigan Sierra Club chapter, said.
Gordon also said very few people would preflush their water before drinking it. He asked, “Why should testing be different?”
Sen. Curtis Hertel Jr., D-East Lansing, a sponsor of the Senate bill, said he thinks the state has fallen behind on drinking water.
“Science has changed since code was written,” so Michigan’s standards should adjust to that change, he said.
Hertel said having updated water testing standards is especially important for Michigan, since it’s the state surrounded by the most freshwater in the nation.
Joan Rose, an expert on water quality and public health and the Homer Nowlin Endowed Chair in Water Research at Michigan State University, said when testing for lead, it’s important to take the “first flush” of water, which means avoiding preflushing.
Rose said using the first flush of water provides a more accurate sample of what people are consuming, while preflushing clears out some of the things that could be detected in the first flush.
“Most people aren’t letting the tap run for a few minutes before filling a glass of water,” she said. “For the average person on the average day, they don’t have the time to do that.”
Rose said when it comes to testing for other contaminants, there isn’t a one size fits all remedy. Different contaminants require different approaches.
Mike Berkowitz, the legislative and political director of the Sierra Club chapter, said these bills look like something his organization would support.
The bills would create fines for water suppliers serving small populations that fail to regularly sample and analyze their water.
The bills also would require that water samples are collected and tested in accordance with Environmental Protection Administration (EPA) standards.
The EPA sets legal limits on over 90 contaminants in drinking water, according to its website.
“I think the public expects when they turn on their faucets, they’ll get clean water,” Hertel said. Michigan needs to live up to that expectation, he said.
Gordon said these bills are a step in the right direction for the Legislature to protect the quality of its constituents’ drinking water.
The Senate bill has been referred to the Government Operations Committee, and the House bill has been referred to the Natural Resources Committee.
By LAURA BOHANNON