BENTON HARBOR – More than 11,000 pages of documents highlighting the high levels of lead in Benton Harbor drinking water were released Thursday by state officials.
The mass publication was a response to a request for information from State Senator Ed McBroom, chairman of the Michigan Senate Oversight Committee, and 28 Freedom of Information Act requests filed in the past 18 months, according to Liesl Clark, director of the Michigan Department of the Environment, Great Lakes, and Energy (EGLE).
Clark said more documents will be released in the coming weeks.
Benton Harbor Mayor Marcus Muhammad said on Thursday he hoped the release of documents would not lead to “paralysis by analysis”.
“We identified the problem in October 2018,” he said when contacted by phone. “Now what are you going to do?”
The pages include a plethora of reports on the city’s water system that document what needs to be fixed.
Muhammad said the solution to these problems has always been money, and only state lawmakers have the power to provide the money.
“Even the governor doesn’t have the power to give us the money,” he said. “All she can do is recommend.”
Replacing all of the city’s main service lines is expected to cost $ 30 million. Governor Gretchen Whitmer has called on state lawmakers to provide the city with $ 20 million in funding. However, the city ended up receiving $ 10 million in the state’s 2022 budget.
Two weeks ago, Muhammad told the House Oversight Committee in Lansing that the city needed an additional $ 11.4 million to fully fund the removal of all lead service lines in the city.
He said he had no news from state lawmakers since his testimony, including state representative Pauline Wendzel and state senator Kim LaSata.
Attempts to contact LaSata and Wendzel failed on Thursday.
Muhammad said providing clean drinking water to residents shouldn’t be political.
“I think the witch hunt and the ‘take it on’ policy must end and end immediately,” he said. “As it is now, the town of Benton Harbor has become political football, and it is going back and forth. … The classic conclusion of environmental racism is to blame the victim.
Water supply systems are subject to a state notice for lead when lead levels in their drinking water exceed the action level of 15 parts per billion.
Clark included a nine-page letter to McBroom when the documents were released, summarizing the problem not only in Benton Harbor, but across the state.
“Just last week EGLE announced seven new (action level exceedances) for the current round of testing (lead and copper rules), including Hamtramck, Manchester and Wayne,” she wrote. “The 90th percentile value for these FTAs ranged from 16 ppb to 92 ppb.”
Since Michigan tightened its lead and copper rules in 2018, Clark has said 50 different water supplies have been warned of having more than acceptable amounts of lead.
“The situation at Benton Harbor is unique and particularly urgent, but it is also integral to a statewide lead drinking water problem that Michigan must more fully recognize and address,” he said. -she writes.
Although the state has made progress in educating residents about lead in drinking water, she said more is needed. Clark said she knew firsthand, through visits to residents at water distribution sites, that “the desired information has not been fully reached and connected to many residents of Benton Harbor.”
“This gap should serve as an important point of reflection and discussion for officials and stakeholders at all levels of government. I hope you will join my fellow state agencies and myself in a forward-looking conversation about how we can improve the whole-of-government approach to engage communities like Benton Harbor on vital public health issues like this one. “
The 11,000 pages of published material can be viewed at www.michigan.gov/cleanwater.
New executive directive
Whitmer on Thursday signed a new executive directive “seeking to strengthen Michigan state water regulations, rules and policies,” according to a press release from his office.
“The six-part directive will take several steps to tighten regulations, seek to provide more resources, expand community engagement and more,” Whitmer said in the statement. “Our top priority here remains to ensure safe drinking water for every Michigander, no matter who they are or where they live. We will not rest until each community has clean drinking water and each parent feels confident to give their child a glass of water. “
Broken down, the directive:
requires a line-by-line review of existing laws and regulations governing water.
identifies state and local resources needed to better support public water providers, collect data and enforce water laws.
analyzes education and engagement efforts to ensure Michigan residents who live in a community with water quality issues get the information they need to protect themselves.
directs ministries to continue to find ways to reduce lead in drinking water, including a proposal for the speedy and safe disposal of lead service lines statewide, which are a primary source of contamination by lead in drinking water.
examines existing data collection and sharing practices, with the aim of strengthening information collection and transfer and formalizing best practices already in place.
finds opportunities for equitable regional planning in the supply, treatment and delivery of drinking water.