Southwest Michigan City Lead Levels Trigger Health Warnings, State Urges Residents To Use Only Bottled Water


(Matthieu Horwood / Getty Images)

Michigan on Wednesday urged residents of Benton Harbor to use only bottled water for cooking and drinking, a major change in response to the city’s high lead levels.

The state recently announced that it will distribute free water and filters in the southwestern Michigan city. But federal regulators are now reviewing the effectiveness of filters in removing lead from water at certain levels, according to the Department of Health.

The state said more than 15,000 cases of water will be delivered in the coming days to the predominantly black, low-income community.

“We think they’re probably effective,” said Elizabeth Hertel, director of the health department, of the filters.

“At this time, don’t use water for cooking or drinking, even filtered water, until we can guarantee the effectiveness of these filters,” Hertel told The Associated Press.

She didn’t know how long it would take. So far, filters have been distributed to more than 2,600 homes, the department said.

The United States Environmental Protection Agency has said it is evaluating the performance of the filters specifically on Benton Harbor water chemistry.

“Certified filters that are properly installed and maintained are very effective in reducing lead levels in drinking water,” the EPA said, citing studies.

A local activist, Rev. Edward Pinkney, said he had boxes of filters in his church. He is happy with the state’s emphasis on bottled water, but said residents need to hear a louder message.

“Water is dangerous to use. Period. Any use. This will get more attention here,” Pinkney said.

Benton Harbor, with a population of 9,600, is located in Berrien County, 160 km from Chicago. Pinkney and environmental groups have accused Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s administration and local officials of failing to respond adequately since the discovery of lead contamination three years ago.

Whitmer has called for spending $ 20 million at Benton Harbor to replace nearly 6,000 service lines, most of which are suspected of containing lead, within five years.

Lead is considered harmful at all levels, and children are particularly vulnerable because it can slow growth and lead to learning and behavior problems.

300 kilometers away in Flint, lead contamination occurred in 2014-15 because water drawn from a river was not properly treated to reduce corrosion in old pipes. The river was used as a cost saving measure by managers appointed by the government of the day. Rick Snyder.

Benton Harbor, like many communities in western Michigan, draws its water from Lake Michigan. The problem apparently is the condition of the water after it has been treated and is routed through an aging distribution system to homes.

While advising residents to use bottled water, the state has always urged them to run their faucets or tubs daily to keep tap water flowing.

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