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January 18, 2022

U.S. Voters

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WORSE THAN FLINT: Town Facing Unbelievable Water Crisis

2 min read

Benton Harbor Michigan is suffering from lead levels in their drinking water worse than Flint. John Iadarola and Nina Turner break it down on The Damage Report.

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"Residents of a majority-Black city in Michigan have been advised by the state not to use tap water for drinking, bathing, or cooking “out of an abundance of caution” owing to lead contamination.

For at least three years, residents of Benton Harbor, Michigan, have been suffering from lead-contaminated water with what experts describe as insufficient intervention from state and local officials.

A volunteer hands out water to residents in Benton Harbor, 10 September 2021.

This month, the state promised to expand free water distribution in the city and reaffirmed its commitment to comply with federal lead regulations. Activists, who say Benton Harbor’s poor water quality is a sign of environmental injustice and have been calling on the state to take action for years, say these are steps in the right direction, but more remains to be done.

In 2018, Benton Harbor was found to have lead contamination of 22 parts per billion (ppb) in its tap water – far higher than the federal action level of 15 ppb and higher, even, than nearby Flint at the height of its water crisis. No level of lead exposure is considered safe; the federal action level is a national standard set by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to determine which water systems must take action to lower its lead levels.

Local activists welcome these steps after three years of questioning whether the city’s water was safe, and organizing bottled water drives for the community themselves.

“I believe the action … shows they’re ready to do something,” said the Rev Edward Pinkney, head of the Benton Harbor Community Water Council, a significant step in the right direction. “That’s a good thing.”"

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