Majority-Black Michigan City Benton Harbor has a water problem that rivals the Flint water crisis

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Image titled Majority-Black Michigan City Has Water Problem Rivals Flint's Water Crisis

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The state of Michigan has told a predominantly black city not to use tap water for drinking, bathing or cooking “out of caution” because of lead contamination. Residents of Benton Harbor, three hours west of Detroit, have struggled with poisoned water for at least three years, and experts say state and local authorities haven’t done enough to help, according to the Guardian.

In 2018, it was discovered that Benton Harbor had a lead contamination of 22 parts per billion (ppb) in its water. This is a figure well above the federal intervention threshold of 15 ppb and above; this number is also higher than that of Flint at the height of its water crisis. To be clear, no level of lead contamination is safe. The reason there is a federal level of action is that the Environmental Protection Agency uses it as a national standard to determine which water supply systems to focus on.

For its part, the state has pledged to expand free water delivery to Benton Harbor and has pledged to comply with federal water regulations. Local activists say their plight is one of environmental injustice and have warned the state about the water crisis for years.

Local activist Reverend Edward Pinkney, head of the Benton Harbor Community Water Council, said Michigan was moving in the right direction on the issue, but more needed to be done.

Here’s more from the Guardian:

“You have to call for a state of emergency now,” Pinkney said. “It will get the attention of the people of Benton Harbor.” He also said that the formulation of the latest state measures did not reflect the scale of the crisis. “Tell people the water is not safe,” Pinkney said. “Just tell them”.

The Natural Resources Defense Council, along with Pinkney’s group and several other organizations, have filed a emergency call to the EPA on Sept. 9 demanding federal action. In an Oct. 5 response, the EPA told the petitioners that it is now working with state, county and city to “ensure that there is swift action to meet the public health needs of the community “.

Federal involvement sparked a more assertive state response, according to Cyndi Roper, Michigan’s senior policy counsel for the NRDC.

“It’s clear that the involvement of the EPA is getting things done,” Roper said. “The state has not responded to this for three years in a way that protected residents. It wasn’t until EPA headquarters got involved that we started to see an urgent response.

Following the petition in September, the Michigan Department of the Environment, Great Lakes and Energy (EGLE) said it would work with other agencies at the state, county and of the Municipality to install water filters in every home in Benton Harbor and provide bottled water to residents – actions that were previously carried out by the Pinkney group and volunteers. Whitmer, meanwhile, signed a budget allocating $ 10 million to replace lead lines in the city.

The biggest challenge will come in replacing the lead lines.

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer has proposed that the pipes be pulled over five years, but no one knows how the project will be funded. The GOP-controlled legislature only agreed to pay half of the $ 20 million it said it would cost. Then you have Washington, where Joe Biden’s infrastructure plan, which would support Michigan’s efforts, stuck on Capitol Hill.

Erik Olson, senior strategic director for health at the NRDC, said any cuts in money that would remove lead pipes would hurt underprivileged residents like those in Benton Harbor. Activists want the time to withdraw pipes to be reduced to one or two years. They cited how Newark, NJ, a much larger city, has replaced its lead pipes at a rapid pace. More … than 20,000 service lines have been deleted since early 2019.

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