EPA orders Michigan town to improve its water quality to protect residents from lead
Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer said last month that the city’s water system “has failed to meet the regulatory standard for lead” for six consecutive sampling periods over the last three years.
Benton Harbor, which borders Lake Michigan on the western edge of the state, is roughly 85% Black and is home to nearly 10,000 people.
The EPA directive requires the city to take several steps to protect residents while addressing the source of the lead contamination, according to the agency’s news release.
Those steps include:
- Informing residents when lead exceedances are detected in drinking water
- Improving application of chlorine for disinfection and orthophosphate for corrosion control
- Implementing stricter requirements for monitoring of residual disinfectants and byproducts
- Making filter repairs at the water treatment plant
- Using an independent third-party to evaluate alternatives for long-term operation and maintenance of the system
“Exposure to lead in children can cause irreversible and life-long health effects, including decreasing IQ, focus, and academic achievement,” Regan said. “The water infrastructure in Benton Harbor, like many cities across the country, needs upgrades and investments to build resiliency and protect people from lead.”
The Michigan Department of Environment, Great Lakes, and Energy is taking separate actions to address the violations of state laws, according to the EPA announcement.
State of emergency
The EPA said it’s also working with the state to provide bottled water for residents.
Local officials have said they enacted the state of emergency on October 18 to get the attention of politicians in Washington, DC.
Mary Alice Adams, commissioner-at-large, told CNN at the time that federal officials “may not be aware of the magnitude of these type of problems happening in communities across the country.”
“While they fight our infrastructure bill, we live in a four seasonal state and with the winter weather near at hand, that can be so devastating at times,” she said. “We need to know that FEMA, the National Guard will be here for us.”
The governor previously committed to replacing 100% of lead pipes in the city within 18 months.
“Our work will build on the executive directive I signed last week to pursue an all-hands-on-deck approach to protect access to safe drinking water right now and make lasting investments in water infrastructure,” Whitmer said in the October 19 release.
The state estimates it will cost approximately $30 million to replace all the lead pipes in Benton Harbor, according to the governor’s office.
So far, the state has been able to secure a total of $18.6 million, with $10 million coming from next year’s budget, $3 million from the Michigan Clean Water plan, and a $5.6 million grant from the EPA.
The governor’s news release said $15 million of the state’s 2022 budget is being used to supply residents with bottled water and for “other key uses.”
CNN’s Elizabeth Joseph and Kelly McCleary contributed to this report.