Michigan City Declares Lead Emergency; Governor Whitmer’s Visits
Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer said she traveled to Benton Harbor on Tuesday to listen to residents who were told to use bottled water due to high levels of lead in tap water .
Whitmer’s shutdown, which was not publicly disclosed until it was completed, came hours after city commissioners unanimously declared a state of emergency and empowered Mayor Marcus Muhammad to lead Benton Harbor’s response.
“We have heard the cry of the people. All the mayor needs from this commission, we will work with him tooth and nail,” said Commissioner Duane Seats.
Benton Harbor, a predominantly black, predominantly low-income community of 9,700 residents, is located in southwest Michigan, 160 miles from Chicago.
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Lead levels in water have exceeded the federal threshold. Unlike Flint, where state-appointed managers changed the water source and didn’t treat it properly, the situation in Benton Harbor is different in some ways.
Benton Harbor, like many communities, draws its water from Lake Michigan, but the system circulates the water through old lead pipes. Some experts believe that a decrease in the volume of water due to the decrease in the number of customers has also contributed to the contamination.
Lead is considered harmful at all levels, and children are particularly vulnerable because it can slow growth and lead to behavioral problems.
The state provides residents with free water for cooking and drinking.
“We will not rest until every parent feels able to give their child a drink of water knowing it is safe,” Whitmer said in a written statement.
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The cost of replacing approximately 6,000 lead service lines is estimated at $ 30 million. Nearly $ 19 million in state and federal money has been set aside, and Whitmer hopes the Republican-controlled legislature will agree to use more federal money to meet the goal.
The mayor was asked at a press conference if he was disappointed Whitmer hadn’t acted sooner.
âMy Bible says money solves all things,â said Muhammad. “It’s a $ 30 million job, and the money wasn’t there three years ago.”
He said no one wins in a “blame game”.
âShe cannot do it alone,â Muhammad said. “It’s a democracy. I’m just happy today to stand here and say we have the money, we’re moving forward.”
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Separately, the State Senate Oversight Committee asked the state environmental agency for documents related to Benton Harbor, including emails and correspondence from 2019, when Whitmer, a Democrat, took office.
State Senator Ed McBroom, Chairman of the Republican Committee, cited a recent Detroit News report that the state did not tell residents their water was unsafe for more than two years while trying treatments for reduce lead levels.
The Department of the Environment, Great Lakes and Energy will explain “how officials and residents of Benton Harbor were made aware of lead levels in drinking water,” said spokesperson Hugh McDiarmid Jr. .