IMMEDIATE RELEASE: Benton Harbor Community Water Council and Freshwater Future Call on Governor Whitmer to Fully Protect Benton Harbor Residents’ From Lead
September 8, 2021, Benton Harbor, MI – Today Governor Gretchen Whitmer announced $20 million over the next five years to remove and replace lead service lines in Benton Harbor.
Over the past 3 years, Benton Harbor residents have been subjected to high lead levels, with the latest samples being as high as 24 parts per billion.
“While we thank Governor Whitmer for the $20 million to replace Benton Harbor’s lead service lines, the lead in water situation in Benton Harbor is and has been for the past 3 years a dire emergency,” said Reverend Edward Pinkney, President and CEO of Benton Harbor Water Council. “We have watched our children, loved ones, and my fellow community members be subjected to high lead in water levels. It has been a struggle to get our water utility to properly test and protect the community from these high levels of lead.”
The American Medical Association and CDC have determined there is no safe level of lead in drinking water. Impacts to children exposed to lead include neurological disorders, decreased cognitive behaviors, lower IQ, ADHD, and kidney disease and failure later in life to name a few. A number of studies have also linked lead poisoning to behavioral issues, such as aggression in children and teens, and criminal behavior as adults.
Over the past three years, Benton Harbor water has consistently exceeded state and federal standards in lead for drinking water.. In 2018, residents, with the support of Freshwater Future, formed the Benton Harbor Water Council to educate community members about the dangers of high lead in residents’ water. Together the Benton Harbor Community Water Council and Freshwater Future has consistently pushed the Berrien County Health Department to provide filters to the Benton Harbor Community Water Council to support residents in properly installing and maintaining water filters to protect themselves from dangerous lead levels in their water. Recently, the Benton Harbor Water Council worked hand-in-hand with the local school system to secure funding for water filter stations and reusable water bottles for students, highlighting the success of solutions driven by the community for the community.
“While the state has announced much needed funding assistance to replace lead pipes, what continues to lag is a robust enforcement program that should have required a thorough corrosion control study much earlier,” said Jill Ryan, Executive Director of Freshwater Future. “Without fixing the corrosion control problem first, residents will still be left with lead in their water until pipes are replaced.”
The groups are calling on the city, county, state, and federal government to do more to protect the residents of Benton Harbor, including:
- Providing a bulk supply of filters to the Benton Harbor Community Water Council, a trusted community resource, to ensure residents have filtered tap water;
- An immediate emergency supply of safe drinking water to Benton Harbor for residents, including elders and children;
- Adequate corrosion control now and until the last private and public lead service line is replaced in Benton Harbor; and
- Training and contracts for local residents to replace the lead service lines to support the economy of a community with a poverty rate of 45%.
Governor Whitmer must work expediently with EGLE and MDHHS to ensure these measures get put into place immediately and remain in place until the last private and public lead service line is replaced. No person should have to worry about whether or not their drinking water, a basic necessity for life, is tainted with lead.