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Benton Harbor water continues to meet state standards as lead levels drop in latest round of testing

More than 99 percent of lead lines replaced under state's accelerated infrastructure investment program

The Michigan Department of Environment, Great Lakes, and Energy (EGLE) today announced that the City of Benton Harbor’s Lead and Copper Rule (LCR) monitoring has shown the 90th percentile* for lead to be at or below the 15 parts per billion (ppb) action level for the third consecutive time in 18 months and meeting all standards of the Safe Drinking Water Act.

The latest six-month monitoring period from July 1 through December 31, 2022, resulted in a 90th percentile calculation of 9 ppb for lead from 65 sampling locations, including 39 Tier 1 residential sites. This calculation includes Michigan’s stricter-than-federal requirement that a fifth liter sample be collected to better reflect the impact of lead service lines. 

A 90th percentile calculation of 9 ppb means 90 percent of the test results used in the calculation came in at or below 9 ppb.

The latest lead testing result is lower than the previous 6-month period result of 14 ppb from 67 sample locations. In the second half of 2021, samples from 63 residences yielded a 90th percentile value of 15 ppb.

The number of residential Tier 1 sites available for sampling has declined dramatically due to the accelerated service line replacement program that reached 99 percent completion in October 2022. Only two sites (Tier 1) sampled in the most recent monitoring period were found to be above the federal action level of 15 ppb and both had their lead service lines replaced with new copper pipes shortly after the sampling was completed.

“This is positive news and proof that Benton Harbor’s critical infrastructure work has led to lower exposures from lead service lines,” said Eric Oswald, director of EGLE’s Drinking Water and Environmental Health Division (DWEHD). “Having said that, today’s news does not lessen the need for continued education around proper use of filters, removing lead plumbing from inside homes, and continued improvements to the operation of the drinking water system.”

The Michigan Department of Health and Human Services (MDHHS) recommends that Benton Harbor families should use lead-reducing filters or bottled water for cooking, drinking, brushing teeth, rinsing food, and mixing powdered infant formula until MDHHS confirms that sources of lead in a home’s plumbing have been fixed, removed, or replaced as part of the free home lead inspection process. Visit the City of Benton Harbor Drinking Water Road Map to learn more about the free home lead inspection and removal process.

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer committed the state to removing lead service lines across Benton Harbor 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 LSLR status online dashboard.

EGLE technical experts continue to consult with staff at the Benton Harbor water plant to further enhance its corrosion control treatment. Corrosion control is achieved by introducing phosphate into the water supply to coat service lines and interior fixtures – reducing the amount of lead that dissolves when water passes through those materials.

Strategies to reduce lead exposures in the home can be found on the state’s Mi Lead Safe website.

Michigan in 2018 adopted the nation’s toughest lead rules for drinking water. The state’s Lead and Copper Rule (LCR) requires that all lead service lines in the state be removed. Water supplies are required to replace an average of five percent of their lead service lines annually over a 20-year period that started in 2021. Starting in 2025, the rule lowers the action level to 12 ppb.

*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 6 are above the federal action threshold of 15 ppb, it would count as a lead action level exceedance. An exceedance occurs when a community’s ninetieth percentile value for lead during a sampling period is higher than 15 ppb. Since Benton Harbor’s first exceedance in 2018, values from the first exceedance and the subsequent 6-month sampling periods have, chronologically, been 22, 27, 32, 23, 24, 24, 15, 14, and 9 (all ppb).

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