Officials said the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency was conducting a study to collect data on the effectiveness of water filters in reducing lead in the city’s drinking water.
So far, more than 4,500 cases of bottled water have been diverted to the city and another 15,500 cases will be delivered in the coming days to several distribution sites.
“This action is part of an accelerated widespread effort to reduce the risk of exposure to lead in drinking water as the city replaces all lead service lines,” health officials said in a statement. hurry.
Lead contamination in water testing has been a problem at Benton Harbor, which sources water from Lake Michigan for several years.
Lead can enter drinking water when plumbing materials and service lines contain lead corrosion. There is no safe level of lead exposure for children and even low level exposure has been linked to central and peripheral nervous system damage and learning disabilities, according to the Centers for United States Disease Control and Prevention.
The EPA has a lead contamination action level of 15 parts per billion. If tests show that more than 10% of water samples reach this mark, water systems are needed to optimize anti-corrosion treatment, educate the public about lead in drinking water, and replace parts of service lines. lead.
At Benton Harbor, water tests exceeded this level in 2018. A house in 2020 was tested at 440 ppb for lead. Eleven homes tested this year showed water with lead levels above 15 ppb this year, with one home hitting 889 ppb – nearly 60 times the EPA action level, according to data released by the city.
The warning to use bottled water comes after local advocates and activists filed a petition with the EPA asking for federal intervention on September 9.
Reverend Edward Pinkney, a local activist and chairman of the Benton Harbor Community Water Council, described the water coming out of the tap as “yellow with small particles inside and a bad smell.”
“It took three years and a petition for this to happen. There is a major problem. They were trying to cover it, ”Pinkney told ABC News. “When you have lead in your water, you poison the community. We need to take a stand and make sure every community has clean water and we need to do that immediately. We cannot wait. “
Benton Harbor has a total of 5,877 service lines, of which 51% “are known to contain lead, are known to be galvanized lines previously connected to lead, or are of an unknown material but may contain lead” and only 2% of service lines contain no lead, according to the petition.
The petition stated that after exceeding the 15 ppb threshold for corrosion control treatment and other actions, “as we have seen here in Benton Harbor… this treatment technique has not responded to its demands. preventive health standards and exposed countless people to drinking water contaminated with lead. . “
“We have listened to community concerns and out of caution we recommend that residents use bottled water,” Elizabeth Hertel, director of the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services, said in a statement.
The bottled water advisory echoes the Flint, Mich., Crisis in 2014 and 2015, where the state changed the city’s water supply to come from the Flint River. An investigation later revealed that there were highly toxic levels of lead in the water.
“People are very upset because they feel they cannot trust the government. They let our children suffer, ”said Pinkney. “Actually, they haven’t learned anything from Flint. “
As part of Michigan’s 2022 state budget, $ 10 million is for replacing service lines at Benton Harbor and $ 15 million for a new emergency drinking water fund.
Pinkney praised Gov. Gretchen Whitmer for committing to replacing the city’s pipes in five years instead of the 20 years originally proposed, but he insists, “We think she can do it in a year. He also calls on the governor to declare that the water in Benton Harbor is not drinkable for public awareness.
“Here’s what to do: They need to replace all lead pipes within a year, make sure every family has bottled water until this problem is resolved and they shouldn’t be paying for that water that comes out of the tap, ”said Pinkney. .