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In this series, Michigan Radio's Lindsey Smith looks at how the Flint water crisis has affected, or could affect, other water systems in Michigan - especially those with lead water service lines. It also considers how potential changes to lead in water rules at the federal, and especially the state level, will impact water systems. Scroll below to see the entire series of reports.

Lead levels in three Michigan municipal water systems back in line with federal standards

Filling a sample bottle.
Courtesy photo
Virginia Tech
Water samples in three Michigan cities show improvements in lead levels.

After the Flint water crisis, the state’s environment department closed a bunch of loopholes in the sampling for lead in drinking water. That means cities are taking better samples, more frequently, and at the highest risk homes with lead service lines.

The Detroit suburbs of Romulus and Beverly Hills were knocked above the acceptable level for lead in water in the fall of 2017. That’s mainly because one house in each city tested so high that it pushed each community’s numbers above the federal level.

Since then, Beverly Hills has done hundreds more water samples and is back under the action level for lead. Village data shows almost all of the homes sampled had copper service lines.

In Romulus, documents obtained under the Freedom of Information Act show several more homes tested high for lead in 2018. One sample got up to 996 parts per billion.

The federal “action level” for lead is 15 ppb. That’s a water treatment standard, a calculation gauging how corrosive a town’s water is to the pipes that bring drinking water into homes. It’s not a health standard. Health officials say no amount of lead in water is considered safe.

But the city’s overall 90th percentile for lead in drinking water was down to seven ppb by the end of 2018.

In the Upper Peninsula, Houghton made a slight change to the way it treats its water. That city too is now back below acceptable levels of lead in drinking water.

But now there are other cities that will have to complete this extensive testing this year. Hamtramck, Benton Harbor, Lawrence and Parchment tested high for lead in water in 2018.

Lindsey Smith is a Peabody Award-winning journalist currently leading the station's Amplify Team. She previously served as Michigan Public's Morning News Editor, Investigative Reporter and West Michigan Reporter.
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