BENTON HARBOR, Mich. — Benton Harbor hit a major milestone Wednesday, according to city and state leaders who announced that 99 percent of the city's lead lines have been inspected and replaced.
This signals the start of the end for a several years-long saga for the people of Benton Harbor.
Crews have inspected nearly 4,500 water lines already and either replaced them or verified them to be non-lead, according to the Michigan Department of Environment, Great Lakes and Energy. The city says that leaves just 40 more lines to inspect.
"Benton Harbor's future depends on its ability to meet the needs of its residents,” said Benton Harbor Mayor Marcus Muhammad.
FOX 17 talked with Reverend Edward Pinkney, the president of the Benton Harbor Water Community Council, who said Wednesday's announcement is a major victory for the city.
"Win for the residents of Benton Harbor, a win for the Benton Harbor Community Water Council and a win for the government," Reverend Pinkney added.
Even so, the council plans to distribute water filters to community members.
"They need to know, number one, that you do not run hot water through the water filter," Reverend Pinkney explained. "You got to change it and replace it. That's crucial."
A class-action complaintwas filed against the state of Michigan, Governor Gretchen Whitmer and several other state officials in May, alleging they ignored exceedingly high levels of lead in Benton Harbor's water supply.
The first traces of lead in the city's water were found back in 2018. Since then, people who live and work in the city have been using bottled water for cooking, cleaning and everyday use.
The city has been passing out bottled water to millions of people since 2021, creating the need for recyclingand deliveryprograms throughout the area.
Susan Allen, who lives in Benton Harbor, still depends on that bottled water.
"To be honest, I think that the lines, even though they replaced the lines, I still think that they're still, the water's not safe to drink still, even though they've replaced the lines. I still think the water is still not safe to drink," Allen told FOX 17 Wednesday.
Replacement efforts started in October of 2021.
Meanwhile, cities throughout Michigan now are required to replace five percent of their lead lines each year and this must be complete in fewer than 20 years from 2022.
"I am hoping that [Governor Whitmer] utilizes the ability to get this done and use the same format all around the state of Michigan," Reverend Pinkney added.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), lead is absorbed into our bones and body tissues.
Some of the health effects from lead exposure are:
- General weakness or tiredness
- Abdominal pain and constipation
- Irritability and depression
- Nausea and loss of appetite
- Distractedness or memory loss
- Tingling sensations or pain in the hands or feet
Lead exposure can also damage a pregnant mother's unborn baby's nervous system.
To help protect yourself and your family from lead exposure, the CDC recommends:
- Not eating or drinking in areas where products containing lead are handled or processed
- Working in well-ventilated areas
- Wearing proper personal protective equipment, like goggles, gloves and boots
- Using an effective lead removal product to clean your hands, not just soap and water
- Showering and changing your clothes and shoes after working around any lead-based products
You can find our complete coverage of the Benton Harbor Water Crisis here.