State lawmakers make water their priority

By Tiffany Esshaki, C&G Newspapers (Birmingham-Bloomfield Eagle)

LANSING — Michigan legislators can, for the most part, agree on a few things. Making sure residents have safe, accessible water is likely one of them.

But how to accomplish that goal in the midst of a decaying infrastructure and a constant struggle for funding makes the task a bit more complicated than some nicely worded legislation.

State Sen. Rosemary Bayer, D-Beverly Hills, and U.S. Rep. Brenda Lawrence, D-District 14, proposed efforts last month that they said would provide clean water for residents and students. They addressed different issues, including clean water as a state constitutional right and guaranteed clean water in Michigan schools, but the goal is the same — keep chemicals out of water, and make sure even low-income communities can afford it.

Water as a right
Bayer’s Senate Bill 49, the Human Right to Water Act — a reintroduction of SB 466 from 2017 — states that every constituent has a right to clean, safe, affordable and accessible water. If passed, the state would be required to establish affordable water criteria and safeguards to protect water used for drinking, cooking and sanitary purposes.

Sound vague? That’s because it’s meant to be, according to Kristen Simmons, a communications strategist for the Michigan Senate Democrats.

“This means that Michigan individuals would have a right to clean, safe, affordable and accessible water, and that the state government has an obligation to create the regulations, process and financial mechanisms to make that happen,” Simmons explained in an email. “This bill does not specify the actual regulations, processes and financial mechanisms to do this, except that those cannot affect eligibility for federal funds.”

The bill was prompted by headlines from low-income areas like Flint and Detroit, where water has been found to have dangerous levels of pollutants, including lead and per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances, or PFAS.
“There’s no excuse for people in Michigan, the state with 20 percent of the world’s freshwater, to be drinking water polluted with lead, PFAS and other deadly toxins,” Simmons said.

According to the state of Michigan’s website, PFAS are part of a group of chemicals that have been used globally during the past century in manufacturing and firefighting, and in thousands of common household and consumer products.

PFAS came on the scene around the 1960s and have been considered useful for their resistance to heat, water and oil.

Recently, however, experts have become increasingly concerned by the negative effects of high PFAS levels on human health, especially in drinking water. Studies in animals that were exposed to PFAS found links between the chemicals and increased cholesterol, changes in the body’s hormones and immune system, decreased fertility, and increased risks of certain cancers.

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