Residents In Benton Harbor, Michigan, Urged To Use Only Bottled Water Due To Elevated Levels Of Lead

Advocates filed a petition with the EPA over the high lead levels last month.

Marlene LenthangOctober 8, 2021, 5:42 PM7 min read
Testing, beginning in 2018, showed continued elevation of lead levels in the water despite corrosion control measures being implemented.Don Campbell/The Herald-Palladium via AP, FILE

Michigan officials have told Benton Harbor city residents to use bottled water for drinking, cooking and brushing teeth in response to elevated levels of lead in tap water.

Officials said the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is conducting a study to gather data on the effectiveness of water filters to reduce 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 are being delivered in the coming days at several distribution sites.


PHOTO: A water tower is pictured, Oct. 24, 2018, near downtown Benton Harbor, Mich.
Don Campbell/The Herald-Palladium via AP, FILEDon Campbell/The Herald-Palladium via AP, FILE
A water tower is pictured, Oct. 24, 2018, near downtown Benton Harbor, Mich.

"This action is part of an accelerated, across-the-board effort to reduce the risk of exposure to lead in drinking water while the city replaces all lead service lines," health officials said in a news release.

Lead contamination in water testing has been an issue in Benton Harbor, which sources its 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 exposure to low levels has been linked to damage to the central and peripheral nervous system and learning disabilities, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

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The EPA has a lead contamination action level of 15 parts per billion. If testing shows more than 10% of water samples hit that mark, water systems are required to optimize corrosion control treatment, educate the public about lead in drinking water and replace portions of lead service lines.

In Benton Harbor, water testing surpassed that level in 2018. One home in 2020 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's 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 a federal intervention on Sept. 9

Rev. Edward Pinkney, a local activist and president of the grassroots Benton Harbor Community Water Council, described the water coming out of the tap as "yellow with little particles in it with a bad smell."

"It took three years and a petition to force this to happen. There's a major problem. They were trying to cover it up," Pinkney told ABC News. "When you have lead in your water, you're poisoning the community. We must take a stand and make sure that every single community has clean water and we must do it immediately. We can't wait."

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