For three years, residents of Benton Harbor have been dealing with contaminated drinking water, and it seems to be getting worse. Last month, 20 environmental and public advocacy organizations filed a petition with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) urging the federal government to intervene to make sure Benton Harbor residents have access to clean water.
The story has been getting some more attention recently, including from The Guardian, which reports that lead levels in Benton Harbor are higher now than in Flint during the height of the Flint Water Crisis.
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In 2018, water testing revealed lead contamination of 22 parts per billion, which is well over the federal action limit of 15 parts per billion. Scientists and activists stress that there is no safe level of lead in drinking water.
“But 22 parts per billion certainly high,” says The Guardian reporter Eric Lutz, who has been reporting on the situation in Benton Harbor. “Despite that, though, over the last three years, there have been few changes by elected officials and local activists say that not enough is being done.”
“This is an issue that they need solved urgently,” he says. “An part of the reason that they filed that EPA appeal is not just to get immediate action, but also to call attention to this issue more broadly and to, frankly, draw this attention to this issue across the country where lead lines are in every single state and water is vulnerable everywhere.”
“The most common refrain you hear and, frankly, the most heartbreaking is the sense of isolation and abandonment.” –Eric Lutz, The Guardian
State environmental officials are stepping up efforts to assist Benton Harbor residents who have had their drinking water contaminated. The Michigan Department of Environment, Great Lakes and Energy (EGLE) says it will provide bottled water, filters and blood testing for children. EGLE also recently announced that it is creating a panel of drinking water experts meant to help address these issues across the state.
Lutz says Benton Harbor residents he has spoken with feel left behind and ignored for far too long.
“The most common refrain you hear and, frankly, the most heartbreaking is the sense of isolation and abandonment,” he says. “They don’t feel like they’re being listened to by their local elected leaders. They don’t feel like they’re being listened to by the county. They don’t feel like they’re being listened to by the state or the federal government. And it feels very much like a case of institutional neglect.”