EPA Orders Benton Harbor, Michigan to Protect Residents from Lead-Contaminated Drinking Water

LANSING ­– The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) today issued an enforcement order directing the City of Benton Harbor to take specific steps to bring its water system into compliance with federal drinking water law, just months after nearly 20 groups petitioned the agency to take emergency action. Due to high levels of lead in tap water, the State of Michigan is providing free bottled water to residents.

The following are reactions by Cyndi Roper, Michigan senior policy advocate for NRDC (Natural Resources Defense Council) and Nicholas Leonard, Executive Director of Great Lakes Environmental Law Center:

“The EPA’s order is exactly what is needed to begin addressing Benton Harbor’s long-term water problems; high lead levels are at the top of a very long list of violations that need immediate attention. Bottled water provided by the state is a bridge toward safe water, but the bottom line is decades of disinvestment have left the residents of Benton Harbor with a grossly inadequate water system. Now we need federal and state lawmakers to come together to secure funding to fix the problems and restore residents’ ability to turn on the tap and drink water without fear,” said Roper.

“It is appropriate for EPA to step in to take action to address the many shortcomings of Benton Harbor's public water system, which extend far beyond the ongoing lead contamination. While the Emergency Petition filed with the agency on behalf of Benton Harbor residents shined a light on the issues with the City’s water system and spurred the EPA to action, these efforts are long overdue. Benton Harbor residents have been living with a public water system that has suffered from chronic underinvestment from our federal and state governments and as a result the system has been incapable of providing safe drinking water to residents for far too long. It also begs the question: how many other environmental justice communities have public water systems with similar issues but are being ignored?,” said Leonard. 


Last month, the State of Michigan began delivering bottled water to Benton Harbor, after issuing an advisory that residents not use tap water for "cooking, drinking, brushing teeth, and mixing powdered infant formula.” In September, a group of 20 Michigan and national organizations filed an emergency petition with the EPA to secure a free source of safe drinking water for Benton Harbor’s nearly 10,000 residents, among other requests including full removal of the nearly 6,000 lead service lines delivering water to homes. The petition was filed on behalf of Benton Harbor Community Water Council, Great Lakes Environmental Law Center, NRDC, Flint Rising, People’s Water Board Coalition, Michigan Welfare Rights Coalition, Water You Fighting For, Safe Water Engineering, LLC, Highland Park Human Rights Coalition, Michigan Environmental Justice Coalition, Sierra Club Michigan Chapter, Dr. Mona Hanna-Attisha, Clean Water Action, Ecology Center, Freshwater Future, East Michigan Environmental Action Council, Detroit People’s Platform, Campaign for Lead Free Water, For Love of Water, and Environmental Transformation Movement of Flint.

NRDC (Natural Resources Defense Council) is an international nonprofit environmental organization with more than 3 million members and online activists. Since 1970, our lawyers, scientists, and other environmental specialists have worked to protect the world's natural resources, public health, and the environment. NRDC has offices in New York City, Washington, D.C., Los Angeles, San Francisco, Chicago, Bozeman, MT, and Beijing. Visit us at www.nrdc.org and follow us on Twitter @NRDC.

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