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Whitmer signs directive on Benton Harbor water, plans to replace all lead service lines in 18 months

Flickr User Bart / http://J.Mp/1SPGCl0

Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer announced Thursday that the state plans to replace all lead service lines in Benton Harbor over the next 18 months.

High levels of lead were first detected in Benton Harbor’s drinking water in 2018. Recent city data found a lead level of 889 parts per billion in some homes — that’s more than 59 times the federal safe limit of 15 parts per billion.

This year’s citywide reading was 24 parts per billion, but it was only last week that the state advised all residents to only use bottled water for drinking, cooking, brushing teeth, rinsing foods and mixing powdered infant formula.

On Thursday, Gov. Whitmer signed an executive directive that rolls out an “all-hands-on-deck” approach to the lead situation.

As part of that, the state will expedite lead service line replacements in Benton Harbor using federal, state and local resources with a goal of replacing all of the lines in 18 months.

The directive also says residents of Benton Harbor will continue to get free bottled water and free or low-cost lead-related water testing and health services.

Speaking in Benton Harbor, Lt. Gov. Garlin Gilchrist said the state will be sending 35,000 gallons of bottled water to the city by truck each Monday until the water is safe.

The state will also provide direct shipments of bottled water to Benton Harbor schools.

Michigan’s 2022 state budget includes $10 million specifically appropriated to help remove Benton Harbor’s lead lines. Gilchrist did not specify where the rest of the funding for the 18-month goal would come from.

In early September, a coalition of local and state groups submitted a petition calling for the federal Environmental Protection Agency to step in with emergency powers to provide bottled water to all Benton Harbor residents.

The state began distributing bottled water, filters and lead testing kits to Benton Harbor residents late last month.

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Jakob Lazzaro comes to Indiana from Chicago, where he graduated from Northwestern University in 2020 with a degree in Journalism and a double major in History. Before joining WVPE, he wrote NPR's Source of the Week e-mail newsletter, and previously worked for CalMatters, Pittsburgh's 90.5 WESA and North by Northwestern.