Divine Intervention Should Not Be Required for Safe Water

Guest blog by Reverend Edward Pinkney

BANCO Lead in Water Education Day, July 10, 2021

Photo by Cyndi Roper

Benton Harbor has been in the news lately for its elevated lead levels in drinking water, but the problem has gone on for at least three years. Here is Rev. Edward Pinkney's take on the situation in the form of a guest blog.

I decided to become a pastor because I’m called to serve people and have spent my life working to further social and economic justice as instructed in Micah 6:8. The skills that make a good pastor include empathy, strong communication skills and a passion for the community in which you serve.

I love Benton Harbor. Each day I wake up I’m committed to doing everything I can to make it a good place to work and raise a family. I have witnessed and experienced the power of prayer, but all the prayers in the world aren’t enough to keep a community healthy and vibrant without clean drinking water.

For the past three years Benton Harbor has had elevated levels of lead in the drinking water. Recent tests have found lead levels as high as nearly 60 times the federal “action level.” In fact, my friend Stacey Branscumb found that the levels in his house were 469 parts per billion, while the federal action level is 15. He recently told me about the severe eczema his granddaughter was experiencing as well as the death of his beloved Great Dane. He says he feels sad to see this happening to his family and our community.

This news has been tough to swallow especially after seeing the devastation of Flint, because we know that it’s the kids whose health will be hit hardest by this crisis. Too many parents of Benton Harbor are feeling overwhelmed thinking that they have failed their children through no fault of their own.

That’s why we filed an emergency petition to the federal Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to ask for a free source of safe drinking water for Benton Harbor’s nearly 10,000 residents. In addition, we are asking for the full removal of the nearly 6,000 lead service lines that deliver water to homes in the community.

Our community needs emergency water now, and we call on Governor Whitmer, members of Congress, EPA, and our local elected officials to urgently deliver bottled water and water tanks to our community now. President Biden agrees with me that we people shouldn't be drinking lead in their water, and our community has documented very high levels of lead for at least three years.

Laws like the Safe Drinking Water Act are supposed to ensure our water is safe. But as we’ve seen time and again, water is safer in some communities while others like Benton Harbor must fight to make it happen. Justice delayed is justice denied and safe water delayed is the denial of human rights and the dignity of people like my friend Stacey.

I know faith the size of a mustard seed can move mountains. We’ve seen the power of communities like Flint and Newark when the people come together to take matters into their own hands to seek the justice and outcomes they deserve. As the president of the Benton Harbor Community Water Council, which has worked for the past three years to protect the community from lead in drinking water, I believe we will prevail in our fight for safe water in Benton Harbor.

Water is life. We deserve access to safe, clean water as much as any other community and we will not stop until it happens. We have no other choice.

Reverend Edward Pinkney is the President of the Benton Harbor Community Water Council (BHCWC) and the Executive Director of the Black Autonomy Network Community Organization, which works for economic and social justice in Benton Harbor.

About the Authors

Cyndi Roper

Michigan Senior Policy Advocate, Safe Water Initiative, Healthy People & Thriving Communities Program

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