One Year Later: Benton Harbor’s Lead Water Pipes Nearly 100% Removed, Setting a New Standard for Michigan and the Nation

BENTON HARBOR, MI – Nearly every lead drinking water line in Benton Harbor has been replaced, just one year after community activists, alarmed by three consecutive years of high lead levels found in Benton Harbor’s tap water, petitioned federal and state officials to fix the problem. In response, Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer issued a “whole-of-government” approach to ensuring safe drinking water for the majority Black community. Governor Whitmer’s executive directive provided bottled water to residents as 4,500 lead pipes were replaced six months ahead of schedule. 

The following are reactions from representatives of groups that petitioned the EPA for an emergency response for safe drinking water in Benton Harbor:

 “I’m a believer that community action compelling state leaders to act delivered this incredible win for Benton Harbor, the state of Michigan, and the nation. Replacing Benton Harbor’s thousands of lead water pipes in just one year, well ahead of schedule, was unthinkable last fall. I hope the persistence of Benton Harbor residents will inspire other communities fighting to make their tap water safe,” said Reverend Edward Pinkney, president, Benton Harbor Community Water Council

 “Even as we celebrate this milestone in Benton Harbor, we can’t forget that the scourge of lead service lines remains in many communities in Michigan, including in Flint, where there are more than a thousand homes whose pipes haven’t been checked for lead and replaced if needed. We urge the local and state governments to bring all available resources to finish the job in Flint, where community activists sounded the alarm of lead contamination in drinking water more than seven years ago,” said Cyndi Roper, Senior Policy Advocate with NRDC (Natural Resources Defense Council).

 “When called upon, Governor Whitmer’s team met the need: a robust government response to Benton Harbor’s lead contamination water crisis. Moving forward, we have to make sure we implement policies and systems to prevent this kind of crisis before it starts,” said Nick Leonard, executive director, Great Lakes Environmental Law Center. 

“Benton Harbor’s pivot from a 20-year lead service line replacement plan to completely replacing its lead service lines in one year is extraordinary. We’ve learned a lot in the process of replacing Benton Harbor’s lead pipes, including the importance of keeping a close eye on the work to ensure accountability, quality, and transparency,” said Elin Betanzo, founder of Safe Water Engineering.


Last October, Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer issued an executive directive launching a “all-hands-on-deck, whole-of-government approach” to ensuring safe drinking water for Benton Harbor, including a commitment to removing all the lead service lines in 18 months. In addition, Benton Harbor residents were provided free bottled water. The Governor’s directive came one month after a group of 20 Michigan and national organizations filed an emergency petition with the EPA in response to high levels of lead in the city’s drinking water for the last three years. Tests results found lead levels as high as nearly 60 times federal standards. The emergency petition sought to secure a free source of safe drinking water for Benton Harbor’s nearly 10,000 residents, among other requests, including full removal of 4,500 lead service lines delivering water to homes. 

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 and follow us on Twitter @NRDC.

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