Michigan city declares emergency over lead; Gov. Whitmer visits

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The state reportedly failed to inform residents of Benton Harbor about lead levels for more than 2 years

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Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer said she went to Benton Harbor on Tuesday to hear residents who were urged to use bottled water because of the high levels of lead in their tap water.

Whitmer’s stop, which was not disclosed to the public until it was finished, was prompted by the city’s commissioners unanimously declaring a state of emergency and authorizing Mayor Marcus Muhammad to lead the Benton Harbor response. Came a few hours later.

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Commissioner Duane Seits said, “We’ve heard people cry. Whatever the mayor needs from this commission, we’re going to work with it.”

Benton Harbor is a predominantly black, low-income community of 9,700 in southwestern Michigan, 100 miles from Chicago.

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Whitmer’s campaign may have to refund or donate millions from additional contributions, the report said.

The lead level in the water has exceeded the federal limit. Unlike Flint, where state-appointed managers alter the source of the water and then do not treat it properly, the situation in Benton Harbor is different in some ways.

Benton Harbor, like many communities, receives water from Lake Michigan, but the system moves water through old lead pipes. Some experts believe that the drop in water content due to fewer customers has also contributed to the pollution.

Lead is known to be harmful at any stage, and children are especially vulnerable because it can slow growth and result in behavioral problems.

The state is providing free water for cooking and drinking to the residents.

“We will not rest until every parent feels confident giving their child a glass of water that it is safe,” Whitmer said in a written statement.

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The cost of replacing approximately 6,000 lead service lines is estimated at $30 million. About $19 million in state and federal funding is set aside, and Whitmer expects the Republican-controlled Legislature to agree to use more federal money to reach the goal.

The mayor was asked at a news conference if he was disappointed that Whitmer had not acted sooner.

“My Bible says money solves all things,” said Muhammad. “It’s a $30 million job, and the money wasn’t there three years ago.”

He said that no one wins in the “blame game”.

“She cannot act alone,” said Muhammad. “This is a democracy. I am happy to stand here today and say we have money, we are moving forward.”

Separately, the state Senate Oversight Committee asked the state’s environment agency for documents related to Benton Harbor, including emails and correspondence related to 2019, when Whitmer, a Democrat, took office.

State Sen. Ed McBroom, chairman of the Republican Committee, recently cited a report in the Detroit News that said the state failed to tell residents to give their water while trying treatments to reduce lead levels. Was unsafe for over a year.

The Department of the Environment, Great Lakes and Energy will explain the levels “how Benton Harbor officials and residents were informed of drinking water lead,” said spokesman Hugh McDiarmid Jr.


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