Michigan City With Lead In Water Ordered To Repair Water Treatment Plant | State News



BENTON HARBOR (AP) – Michigan city urging residents not to drink tap water failed to timely warn people of high lead levels and must make water plant improvements federal regulators said Tuesday after an inspection revealed a variety of problems.

The Environmental Protection Agency said the situation was serious enough to order Benton Harbor to consider handing over the water supply system to someone else.

“The people of Benton Harbor have suffered for too long,” EPA administrator Michael Regan said in a written statement. “The EPA is fully engaged and working to support the community, and today we are taking another crucial step in ensuring that drinking water is safe and reliable. “

Benton Harbor is a predominantly black, predominantly low-income community of 9,100 people, approximately 100 miles from Chicago.

In October, state and local authorities asked residents to use bottled water for cooking and drinking. Experts believe that an aging water system, fewer users and other problems cause lead to leach out of pipes, contaminating the supply.

The EPA said it inspected the water treatment plant in late September and also looked at how Benton Harbor responded to high lead levels. The government said the city had not notified residents and the Berrien County health department for more than a year.

The city told “inspectors that no public education materials are sent with mail-in water bills,” the EPA said in a 23-page order.

Mayor Marcus Muhammad has defended the way the city communicates with the public, insisting that notices have been published since 2018. But he also acknowledged that the water plant’s problems need to be addressed.

“The doctor can diagnose you, but when he gets you the prescription, you have to pay for it,” the mayor said. “And if you don’t have the money, you stay sick.”

The EPA said the water treatment plant needed to make critical repairs to the filters and improve the use of chlorine and anti-corrosion chemicals.

Benton Harbor has also been ordered to hire an outside expert to look after the long-term future of the water plant, including a possible merger with another system.

The problems “extend far beyond the ongoing lead contamination,” said Nicholas Leonard, director of the Great Lakes Environmental Law Center, which had urged the government to intervene.

Liesl Clark, chief of the Michigan environmental agency, said the order “is not intended as a punitive exercise” but is a means of identifying the needs of Benton Harbor.

The state focused on providing water to residents and developing a strategy to replace lead water pipes outside homes. Almost $ 19 million in state and federal funds has been set aside, but the target is $ 30 million.

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