Residents of Benton Harbor, Michigan — a predominantly African American city just three hours away from Flint, Michigan — are dealing with a. People are under orders not to drink, cook or even brush their teeth with tap water because of the high levels of lead from old pipes.
And city officials have known about the problem for years.
Benton Harbor gets its water from nearby Lake Michigan, but residents like Frances Davis say what comes out of the faucet is not safe to use. She instead turns to bottled water for everything from cooking, to brushing her teeth, to bathing.
In 2018, lead was detected in the drinking water in some homes due to older lead pipes. State officials say the city’s water system has failed six lead tests over the last three years.
In September, concerned residents and activists petitioned the EPA for help. In response, the state started distributing free bottled water to the city’s nearly 10,000 residents.
“There’s no urgency with the federal government. There’s no urgency with the state government. And there’s no urgency with the city government. They just don’t get it,” said Reverend Edward Pinkney.
He started distributing water through his church two years ago, and said many residents still don’t know about the crisis.
“We don’t have time,” Pinkney said. “My children, life is at stake, your children, life is at stake.”
But time isn’t the only issue. Benton Harbor Mayor Marcus Muhammad said money is a problem as well.
The city can’t afford to fix the lines, and state and federal money isn’t coming fast enough. Muhammad pointed out that the city just received a $5 million check to work on the problem — funds that were approved during the Obama administration.
“If I had a magic wand, I would solve it right now. But in government, things don’t work that way” Muhammad said.
As for Davis, she’s thought about selling her house, but she’s unsure if anybody would buy it.
“I’ll just have to board it up and move out,” she said.
So far, less than 5% of the nearly 6,000 lines in the city have been replaced. Muhammad wants all the work finished in two years. He’s also hoping President Biden’spasses, since it would designate money to help replace the pipes.