lead pipes have contaminated water in benton harbor

Once again, Michigan is making headlines and not for a positive reason. In the state’s second high-profile lead contamination crisis in less than a decade, Benton Harbor, a city in the southwest region of the state, is experiencing a water crisis that echoes the infamous crisis in Flint. Now, with lead contamination back in the news, the public — and officials — have questions that demand answers.


What Is Happening in Benton Harbor?

The 2014 revelation of water contamination in Flint, Michigan was notorious. But unfortunately, it is not an isolated case.

In October 2021, daily life in Benton Harbor was disrupted as state officials began delivering bottled water en masse. In a warning released on the 6th, locals were encouraged to avoid tap water “out of an abundance of caution.” However, it was soon made clear that the town’s water supply has had chronic lead problems making it unsafe to drink, and that testing had uncovered this fact three years prior.

As Benton Harbor reacted to October’s announcement, Mayor Marcus Muhammad told a legislative committee that the city’s water problems had been years in the making. In fact, the town was under state emergency management from 2010 to 2014.

According to the Michigan Department of Environment, Great Lakes, and Energy, the water system in Benton Harbor has exceeded EPA standards regarding lead contamination since 2018. Six tests were given, six months apart, and more than 10% of the water samples taken from local homes and businesses show lead contamination above 15 parts per billion (ppb). This is the amount that the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has set as an action level for public water systems, requiring any system to reduce the amount of lead in the water if more than 10% of the water samples have lead levels over 15 ppb.

Government Response

In response to the lead contamination, the state issued a permit to the city to pump polyphosphate and orthophosphate into the water to coat the pipes and prevent further erosion. A coalition of environmental and community organizations filed an emergency petition also asking the EPA to intervene. They cited Benton Harbor’s water contamination as a “persistent, widespread, and severe public health crisis rising to the level of substantial endangerment.”

As of this writing, Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer has promised to spend millions of dollars in the next 18 months to replace the city’s lead service lines. But this is a process that, in the past, has taken decades to complete. In an effort at triage, the Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) announced federal approval to use Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) funds to first remove lead hazards from homes where children or pregnant women live.

For now, residents have been told not to drink, cook, brush their teeth, or make baby formula with the tap water in their homes and businesses. The state of Michigan has sent over 100,000 cases of water to Benton Harbor, but households have been going through the 24-packs of 20-ounce bottles of water quickly. At the very least, city residents are still able to shower and flush their toilets using the contaminated water.

Still, residents worry about how sustainable the bottled water “solution” will be for the long haul. Drivers have to line up at water distribution sites, losing valuable time usually given to work and family. It is inconvenient and stressful, and residents must use the water carefully because quantities are limited.


What About Lead Pipes in the Rest of the U.S.?

For decades, water utility companies installed service lines made entirely of lead to bring water from treatment plants to the main street lines that lead into our homes and businesses. These pipes account for 50-75% of lead contamination, making them the single largest source of contamination in our drinking water. According to the EPA, there are still approximately 9.3 million lead service lines left in the United States.

The water crisis in Benton Harbor is just the latest example of how failing infrastructure continues to disenfranchise residents, especially those in poorer communities. According to the 2019 U.S. Census data, the city has battled economic decline and high unemployment for decades, with a median household income of only $21,916. Unfortunately, these are very similar statistics to other cities that have also experienced lead water contamination.

Digging up and replacing these lines is costly but necessary. In November 2021, after years of inaction, a bipartisan infrastructure bill was approved by Congress. It includes $15 billion to replace lead service lines to homes and another $200 million for schools to help prevent lead contamination of their water. Estimates from the president’s administration have put the total price tag for replacing all the lead service lines in the U.S. at $45 billion or higher.


Is There a Safe Amount of Lead Exposure?

The public may be searching for reassurance or some kind of silver lining, but the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) say no amount of lead in drinking water is considered safe for consumption. Moreover, it is much more dangerous for children. Lead is a potent neurotoxin, and high amounts can slow growth and development, cause brain and nervous system damage, contribute to learning and behavioral issues, and even lead to speech and hearing problems. Exposure has also been tied to a decreased attention span, a lower IQ, and poor academic performance in school-age children.

With the latest information in Benton Harbor, activists are pushing for more aggressive and responsive action about lead pipes and contamination in Michigan and America overall.


The Science of Water

Since so many lead pipes are still being used, it is wise for homeowners to take control of their home’s water quality. A study released in 2015 by the Natural Resources Defense Council shows that water sources for 18 million Americans had violations for lead and other EPA-restricted contaminants, including fecal waste, arsenic, rocket fuel, and chemical byproducts.

Everyone deserves safe water. Let The Science of Water help protect you and your family by delivering the clean, pure water you are entitled to. Installing a whole-home filtration system is the only way to give you the complete peace of mind you are looking for.

Fortunately, we’ve made the process easy. Contact us for your free water test, and we will evaluate the results and offer our expert recommendations for your water supply. We will then consult with you to determine which whole house water filtration system will work best for your home. We use Puronics drinking water systems which provide highly filtered, crystal clear water for drinking and cooking.

Water is more than a luxury, it’s a precious necessity. So contact us to get started on your clean water journey today!



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