Lead in Water Impacting Majority Black City of Benton Harbor

In Summary

Another city in Michigan is experiencing significant lead contamination in its waters, leaving it and its Black residents struggling. 

Benton Harbor, Michigan, a city with primarily Black residents, has warned people about lead contamination in the water.  

According to The Guardian, residents have been advised by the state to stop using the tap water for drinking, bathing and cooking. For years, the residents have suffered from lead contamination with little intervention from officials. Activists in the area say this issue is a form of environmental injustice as they’ve been asking legislators to take action for years.  

RELATED: Why Communities of Color Should Care About Earth Day, Environmental Justice 

In 2018, the city was found to have 22 parts per billion of lead contamination in its tap water, which is significantly higher than the federally approved level of 15 parts per billion. Benton Harbor is about 179 miles from Flint where the lead contamination was at 27 parts per billion at the height of its water crisis, according to The Washington Post.  

RELATED: How the Water Crisis Forever Changed Flint and Eroded Trust  

Despite what is federally allowed, there is no level of lead exposure that is considered safe. Local activists have organized bottled water drives for the community and now the state is stepping up and promised to expand free distribution of water in the city. They’ve also affirmed residents they are committed to complying with federal regulations.  

“I believe the action … shows they’re ready to do something,” Reverend Edward Pinkney, head of the Benton Harbor Community Water Council, told The Guardian. “That’s a good thing.”  

Pinkney, although optimistic, is urging Governor Gretchen Whitmer to take it a step further. “You need to call for a state of emergency,” he said. “That will get the attention of the people in Benton Harbor. Tell the people the water is unsafe. Just tell them.”  

Whitmer has proposed new pipes over the course of five years, but it is unclear how the project would be funded. The Republican-led state only agreed to half of the funding needed for the $20 million project, and President Joe Biden’s infrastructure bill continues to get held up on Capitol Hill.  

While Whitmer’s proposal is something, residents say five years is too long. Pinkney knows the residents need change now. “We can’t wait no longer,” he said. “Just think about if your children were living in Benton Harbor—would you allow this? Look at Benton Harbor and do the right thing.”  

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