Nearly all lead pipes replaced in Michigan city: Officials

Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer announced that 99% of Benton Harbor’s water supply lines have been inspected and replaced with new copper lines where leaded or galvanized pipes are found, promising an end to the city’s water crisis.

According to Michigan officials, nearly 4,500 water supply lines were replaced or verified as lead-free, leaving only 40 inspections.

Benton Harbor’s water system has exceeded Environmental Protection Agency standards for lead contamination since 2018. Residents were forced to use bottled water for drinking, cooking and brushing their teeth due to lead contamination in tap water. Cars stood outside local water distribution centers for weeks last year.

For consecutive sampling periods spanning three years, the Benton Harbor water system has failed to meet agency standards for lead. Whitmer issued an emergency policy last year promising to replace all lead pipes by April 2023 to speed up what was initially a five-year plan.

Under current law, the Michigan Department of Environment, Great Lakes and Energy has directed Benton Harbor to remove 7% of its leading utility lines within 12 months beginning in July 2021. Whitmer was working with lawmakers to expedite that timeline and replace all lines by March 2023, officials said.

The project is now being completed five months ahead of schedule.

“Every Michigander deserves access to safe drinking water and has confidence in the water that comes out of their faucet,” Whitmer said.

City residents will continue to have access to lead-reducing filters, bottled water, free home inspections and mitigation services, according to a statement from EGLE.

City attorneys filed an emergency petition with the EPA last year, calling for federal intervention to help with the crisis.

“EPA was pleased to support successful efforts to replace leading service lines throughout Benton Harbor,” said Debra Shore, EPA Region 5 administrator, in a statement.

“Every American has the right to drink water free of lead and other contaminants, but there are still 6 to 10 million lead supply lines in cities and towns across the country, many of which are in communities of color and low-income neighborhoods, according to the nonpartisan.” Infrastructure Act provides $15 billion to communities to replace these lead pipes so American families no longer have to fear the adverse health effects of lead and other contaminants in their water,” Shore added.

Other US cities facing water crises include Las Vegas, New Mexico; Honolulu, Hawaii; Jackson, Mississippi; and Baltimore, Maryland.

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