One Michigan City Has A Water Crisis Worse Than Flint — And Has For Years

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Gallon Of Water

If I told you that there was a city in Michigan that had a problem with lead in their water, you’d probably look at me and say, “yeah, I know about Flint.”

The plight of the people of Flint Michigan has been in and out of the media since the mid-2010s. The story of Flint is one of severe infrastructural mismanagement, policy decisions made in spite of the public good and environmental injustice.

But Flint isn’t the only city in the United States which has had a problem with high levels of lead in the water. It isn’t even the only city in Michigan.

There is another city in Michigan that has had even higher lead levels in its water than Flint.

What is the Benton Harbor water crisis?

Benton Harbor is the site of some of the worst lead pollution in the country.

At 22 parts per billion (ppb), the lead in Benton Harbor’s tap water exceeds the federal action level by 7 ppb. That means that Benton Harbor’s lead contamination is even worse than Flint’s was at the height of the lead contamination in the city.

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For perspective, the federal action level is the point at which the federal government decides that action must be taken to ensure the safety of the affected populace.

Benton Harbor’s water has exceeded the federal action level by nearly 50%.

Finally, after years of activism and inaction from local and state governments, it seems like the wheels might be turning on real change for the people of Benton Harbor, and it can’t come soon enough.

According to the people of Benton Harbor, it took the involvement of the Environmental Protection Agency to prompt the state to start taking the health and needs of its people seriously.

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After years of relative inaction, the state has now begun to encourage citizens to use freely available bottled water instead of tap water for drinking, cooking and brushing teeth. The state is also moving ahead with an “accelerated, across-the-board effort.”

Despite the progress, the residents of Benton Harbor are not satisfied.

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Benton Harbor residents say the government should do more to end the crisis.

Currently, the plan is to replace the 6,000 service lines over the next half a decade. Many point to other cities, however, and ask why it should take so long to replace Benton Harbor’s service lines when it takes far less time to complete even greater projects elsewhere in the United States.

For now, the residents of Benton Harbor can at least breathe a sigh of relief that their government has finally taken notice of the fact that their water is unfit for drinking. 

However, there is still a long way to go before the people of Benton Harbor are can enjoy the safe tap water that the rest of us have taken for granted.

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Dan O'Reilly is a writer who covers news, politics and social justice. Follow him on Twitter.