Connect with us


Benton Harbor’s rushed lead pipe replacement nearly complete




Michigan officials said on Wednesday nearly all lead pipes in Benton Harbor, Michigan, had been replaced about a year after a lead water crisis forced residents to avoid tap water and using bottled water for simple tasks like cooking and drinking.

Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer said last fall that the city would see its lead utility lines replaced within 18 months, a rapid pace for a process that often takes years or decades. Five months before the deadline, approximately 4,500 pipes have been replaced or confirmed to be lead-free. Only about 40 inspections remain to be completed, state officials said.

“We are doing this ahead of schedule,” Whitmer said in a statement.

For three consecutive years, testing of the Benton Harbor water system has found lead levels in tap water to be too high. Lead is a health hazard that can be particularly harmful to young children, stunting their development and lowering IQ scores. Benton Harbor is a predominantly black community of just under 10,000 people.

After activists complained last year that not enough was being done to tackle the lead problem, officials said city tap water should mostly be avoided and provided lead. free bottled water to residents.

Whitmer also promised an ambitious lead pipe replacement program that would eliminate the main source of lead contamination in the city’s water supply. Local officials also passed an ordinance requiring landlords to allow the city to replace lead pipes, which helped speed up work.

“Benton Harbor has become a model for Michigan and the nation,” said Cyndi Roper, senior policy attorney at the Natural Resources Defense Council.

In December, tests finally revealed that lead levels in the city’s tap water had dropped, indicating that treatment efforts to stop pipes from leaching lead into drinking water were helping.

In early 2019, residents were offered free home filters to remove lead from their drinking water, but last fall officials told residents to rely on bottled water so the efficiency of the filters can be tested “as a precaution”. “Test results showed the filters worked as expected and removed lead.

Michigan Department of Health and Human Services Director Elizabeth Hertel said families should still rely on bottled water for their basic needs “until they have their free lead inspection. home” to make sure there are no other sources of lead in the home.

Last year, the Environmental Protection Agency identified several problems at the city’s water treatment plant and ordered officials to explore how to improve operations or possibly sell the plant. Last month, the city released a draft of its analysis. Several options such as retaining city ownership and hiring more staff would increase water bills.

After Flint’s lead water crisis, Michigan passed the toughest regulations in the nation to reduce lead in drinking water. The Biden administration has also prioritized replacing millions of plumb lines across the country, including $15 billion in the federal infrastructure bill for the work. Money will help considerably, but more will be needed.


The Associated Press is supported by the Walton Family Foundation for coverage of water and environmental policy. The AP is solely responsible for all content. For all of AP’s environmental coverage, visit