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Benton Harbor water meets lead standards for second consecutive testing round

Lead service line replacements pass 70% mark, State’s commitments to bottled water, filters remain unchanged

The Michigan Department of Environment, Great Lakes, and Energy (EGLE) today announced that the City of Benton Harbor’s water system met the requirements of the State of Michigan’s Lead and Copper Rule (LCR) during the most recent six-month sampling period. Test results released today were the third consecutive sampling period to show declines in lead levels, keeping the city just below the federal action level.*

Samples taken from faucets throughout the city at 63 residences from Jan. 1, 2022, through June 30, 2022, were used in the compliance calculations. Laboratory analysis released by EGLE showed results ranging from no detection of lead to 53 parts per billion (ppb). Five samples had more than 15 ppb of lead – the federal action level. Worker taps into main water line during Benton Harbor lead service line replacement project, 2022.

The 90th percentile value* was 14 ppb in this sampling period. In the previous sampling period, covering the second half 2021, samples from 63 residences in the city yielded a 90th percentile value* of 15 ppb.

“This is positive news and an indication that Benton Harbor’s drinking water system is remaining stable while the city accelerates this critical infrastructure work,” said Eric Oswald, director of EGLE’s Drinking Water and Environmental Health Division (DWEHD). “Having said that, today’s news does not lessen the urgency around our continuing efforts to assist the city in aggressively reducing lead exposure – through lead service line replacement and corrosion control treatment.”

To date, more that 70% of the service line connections in Benton Harbor have been excavated and, if found to be lead or galvanized, replaced with new copper service lines.

“This is a significant step forward for our community as we work to ensure Benton Harbor has access to safe drinking water,” said Benton Harbor Mayor Marcus Muhammad. “We appreciate the support and unwavering commitment of the State of Michigan and EPA as we work together to move Benton Harbor forward."

EGLE technical experts continue to work with staff at the Benton Harbor water plant to ensure the designated corrosion control treatment is optimal. Corrosion control is achieved by introducing phosphate mixture into the water supply to coat the lead service lines and fixtures – reducing the amount of lead that dissolves when water sits in contact with those materials.

The Michigan Department of Health and Human Services (MDHHS) reaches out to all residences in Benton Harbor where LCR testing shows an exceedance to offer additional water testing and other services to help abate and protect residents from lead. All homes in the City of Benton Harbor are eligible for free lead inspection and abatement of lead hazards found during that inspection. Families living in Benton Harbor can apply for this service by filling out and mailing in an application that is available online. Residents also can call 866-691-5323 to obtain information.

The State will also continue to supply residents with bottled water while additional assurance testing is ongoing in Benton Harbor to increase the community’s confidence in the safety of their drinking water and ensure it meets state and federal safe drinking water standards. The Berrien County Health Department (BCHD) has filters available, and residents can get a free filter by picking one up at BCHD at 2149 E. Napier Ave., Monday through Friday, 8:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. or calling the drinking water hotline at 844-934-1315.

City, county, and state officials emphasized that there is no change in the current guidance for residents to use filtered or bottled water for cooking, drinking, brushing teeth, rinsing foods, and mixing powdered infant formula. EGLE and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) will also continue to work with the city on operational and infrastructure improvements of the drinking water system to ensure that it continues to operate in compliance with the safe drinking water standards.

“Everyone deserves safe drinking water and Benton Harbor is no exception,” said Ruthie McCoy Haralson, a Benton Harbor resident. “It’s good to know that our water continues to be tested and that it meets the federal lead standards. As a senior citizen here in Benton Harbor, I have witnessed many changes in our city, and I’m pleased to see that the City of Benton Harbor and the State of Michigan are continuing to ramp up their efforts to remove lead lines from our community and make the safety of our drinking water a top priority. Great work, we deserve it.”

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer remains committed to removing lead service lines across the city in 18 months, as directed through Executive Directive 2021-6 in October 2021. The progress of the replacement program and other information is available through a Benton Harbor Lead Service Line Replacement – LSLR – status dashboard.

*Federal action level exceedances are based on lead levels in the 90th percentile of samples collected during a sampling period. For example, if 60 water samples are analyzed, and more than six are above the federal action threshold of 15 parts per billion (ppb), it would count as a lead action level exceedance. An exceedance occurs when a community’s 90th percentile value for lead during a sampling period is higher than 15 ppb.

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