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Benton Harbor marks second year of meeting state and federal lead standards

With lead service lines replaced city focuses on in-home plumbing and water plant investments

The Michigan Department of Environment, Great Lakes, and Energy (EGLE) today announced that the City of Benton Harbor’s most recent testing for lead in the city’s drinking water shows lead levels remain at 1 part per billion (ppb). This marks the second consecutive year that Benton Harbor’s drinking water has met the stringent standards of the U.S Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) Safe Drinking Water Act and Michigan’s stricter-than-federal testing requirements for lead.

This week will also mark completion of galvanized iron residential service line replacement from the city’s water distribution system with the excavation and removal of a handful of remaining galvanized lines over the next few days. The last known lead service line in Benton Harbor was replaced in May 2023.

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer committed the state to removing roughly 4,500 lead service lines across Benton Harbor through Executive Directive 2021-6 in October 2021. The expedited replacement of these service lines replaced with new copper pipes was completed well ahead of schedule with most of the lines replaced during 2022. 

Results from the city’s most recent 6-month monitoring period required under the state’s Lead and Copper Rule (LCR) show a 90th percentile* calculation of 1 ppb – well below the state and federal limit of 15 ppb. This marks the fifth consecutive time in past two and a half years that the city’s 90th percentile for lead has been at or below the 15 ppb action level criteria and positions the city to remain compliant with Michigan’s stricter than federal lead action level of 12 ppb going into effect in 2025. 

The latest six-month monitoring period from July 1 through Dec. 31, 2023, resulted in a 90th percentile calculation of 1 ppb for lead from 63 sampling locations. The city completed its sampling prior to the December deadline and all sites were classified as Tier 3 residential sites with older lead-soldered copper plumbing. There are no longer any homes or businesses in the city known to be connected to lead service lines.

A 90th percentile calculation of 1 ppb means 90 percent of the test results used in the calculation came in at or below 1 ppb. The 90th percentile calculation from the previous monitoring period in the first half of 2023 also yielded a result of 1 ppb from 63 Tier 3 locations.

“The data collected over the past two years clearly shows that the drinking water supplied to Benton Harbor homes consistently meets the stringent standards of the Safe Drinking Water Act,” said Phil Roos, director of EGLE. “With replacement of all known lead and galvanized residential service lines complete, our focus remains on helping the people of Benton Harbor identify other sources of lead in their homes and ensure that the city is positioned to continue to provide drinking water that Benton Harbor citizens can be confident in both now and into the future.”

EGLE technical experts continue to consult with staff at the Benton Harbor water plant to further improve operations at the plant including corrosion control techniques. Corrosion control is achieved by introducing phosphate into the water supply to coat the interior of lead pipes or fixtures – reducing the amount of lead that dissolves when water passes through those materials. Although all known lead service lines have been removed across the community, sources of lead could exist in individual homes that could affect water quality. By maintaining diligence on corrosion control, risks from these interior plumbing sources are being reduced, as reflected by the current sampling results of only 1 ppb. The city is funding much of the work through a $45 million American Rescue Plan Act grant.

Residents can learn more about reducing lead exposures in the home by visiting Michigan’s Mi Lead Safe web site.

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, 9, 1, and 1 (all ppb).

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