Nov 03, 2021

EPA Directs Benton Harbor, Michigan, to Take Immediate Action to Improve Drinking Water

The federal order aims for the city to bring its water system into compliance

michigan water

The U.S. EPA issued an order under the federal Safe Drinking Water Act to the city of Benton Harbor, Michigan, due to serious violations and deficiencies found during an inspection of the water system. 

Benton Harbor reported six straight lead in water exceedances in November.

Benton Harbor issued a public advisory in August after finding more than 10% of recent water samples from 78 homes exceeded the action level of 15 parts per billion (ppb) for lead, resulting in an average reading of 24 ppb, reported The Detroit News in September.

Benton Harbor has a roughly 85% Black population and is home to nearly 10,000 people, reported CNN. Benton Harbor has approximately 6,000 water service lines, with most consisting of lead or unknown materials, according to state officials. 

The federal order aims for the city to bring its water system into compliance, reported EPA. The Michigan Department of Environment, Great Lakes and Energy is taking a separate action to address violations of state law as part of its ongoing state enforcement action.  

“The people of Benton Harbor have suffered for too long. EPA is fully engaged and working to support the community, and today, we are taking a critical next step to ensure that drinking water is safe and reliable,” said EPA Administrator Michael S. Regan in the EPA press release. “Exposure to lead in children can cause irreversible and life-long health effects, including decreasing IQ, focus, and academic achievement. The water infrastructure in Benton Harbor, like many cities across the country, needs upgrades and investments to build resiliency and protect people from lead.”

EPA’s SDWA Section 1414 order provides requirements for the city to protect residents in Benton Harbor, including:

  • Informing consumers when lead action level exceedances are detected in drinking water;
  • Improving the applications of chlorine for disinfection and orthophosphate for corrosion control;
  • Implementing stricter requirements for better monitoring of residual disinfectants and its byproducts;
  • Making filter repairs at the treatment plant; And
  • Using an independent third-party to conduct an analysis of alternatives for the long-term operation and maintenance of the system.

EPA also previously awarded $5.6 million to Benton Harbor under a Water Infrastructure Improvements for the Nation (WIIN) Act grant for lead service line replacement and a corrosion control study. As of Oct. 20, more than 71,000 cases of free bottled water had been distributed to Benton Harbor residents since Sept. 30, according to The Michigan Department of Health & Human Services.

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