High lead levels force Benton Harbor residents to rely on bottled water

Michigan

BENTON HARBOR, Mich. (WOOD) — Off the heels of the Flint Water Crisis, another Michigan city is dealing with one of their own.

High levels of lead contamination in Benton Harbor led to the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services urging residents to not drink or cook with the water coming from their taps and faucets.

Michigan’s action lead level — when state leaders would step in and respond — is 15 parts per billion. Data from the city of Benton Harbor shows the highest reading from sampled homes rose from 60 parts per billion to 889 parts per billion over the last three years. It is more than 59 times the state limit.

While federal regulators are looking into the effectiveness of the water filters at the city’s treatment plant, the state is responding by delivering water filters and more than 15,000 cases of bottles to various communities affected by the contamination.

On Thursday, people lined up their vehicles all along Second and Miller streets to pick up cases of water at the Southwest Michigan Community Action Agency, arriving two hours early at most.

One of them was Louise Robinson, who lives on fixed income with disability. She is wondering why she is paying $100 every month for a utility she cannot use safely.

“We pay it and we can’t use it, so I don’t understand,” Robinson said. “This has been off and on for a while now. I can’t even remember exactly how long.”

According to state leaders, adjustments were made to corrosion control phosphates in the water system. They hope that will help coat the lead pipes, allowing water to pass through safely.

As for a long-term solution, the city says they began replacing the 888 lead service lines back in 2019 with help from a $5.6 million Environmental Protection Agency grant and another $10 million from last week’s passing of the state budget.

The work on the century-old infrastructure is expected to finish no earlier than 2023.

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