September 2021: Benton Harbor Petition Filed
High lead contamination levels in Benton Harbor’s drinking water dating back to 2018 led a group of 20 Michigan and national organizations to file an emergency petition on September 9, 2021 with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (USEPA) to secure a free source of safe drinking water for Benton Harbor’s nearly 10,000 residents. Test results released in August 2021 found lead levels above state and federal action levels, with results as high as nearly 60 times the federal action level. The petition cited the “imminent and substantial endangerment” to health from drinking water significantly contaminated with lead and urged EPA to immediately order the City and Michigan officials to provide Benton Harbor residents with safe drinking water, among other requests, including full removal of the estimated 6,000 lead service lines delivering water to homes. Under pressure from the Benton Harbor Community Water Council and its partners, Governor Whitmer eventually ordered an all-hands on deck response to the drinking water emergency. Through this action we secured:
However, despite these wins, no one at EGLE or anywhere else in state government has been held accountable for their failure to address this massive public health disaster in our community.
The People’s Water Board Coalition hosted a Facebook Live event in October, 2021 describing the water quality issues in Benton Harbor.
November 2021: EPA Unilateral Administrative Order
On November 2, 2021, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) issued its Unilateral Administrative Order that identified numerous violations at the drinking water treatment plant including many that could result in bacterial contamination of the water. It turns out that the water challenges in Benton Harbor are not limited to lead in the water.
There are several reasons:
With our fellow petitioners, we have repeatedly requested that EGLE and EPA demonstrate how they have determined that the Benton Harbor water system has been able to adequately treat its water to achieve the treatment requirements provided in the Surface Water Treatment Rules given the ongoing and extensive violations. We have asked for evidence that the violations they identified in November 2021 have been resolved. They finally presented additional data on June 3, 2021, linked here. The good news is that this presentation doesn’t show any obvious information that the water treatment plant is not complying with the disinfection requirements of the Surface Water Treatment Plant. We still have additional questions for EGLE about the data presented. The Benton Harbor Community Water Council will keep working to get answers from EGLE and EPA.
The following documents for requests to EGLE and MDHHS can be found at the bottom of this page:
These news reports from Michigan Radio explore these issues:
February 2022: EPA Inspection Raises Even More Questions About Compliance at the Water Treatment Plant
EGLE and EPA attended an inspection of the Benton Harbor Water Treatment Plant in February 2022. Both EPA and EGLE have been stating that the water treatment plant is meeting all requirements but have provided no evidence. EPA issued an inspection report on March 29, 2022. This report finds that a primary chlorine treatment point is located in a different place than previously thought. As a result, “the existing continuous chlorine analyzers are not an accurate representation of the residual disinfectant levels throughout the treatment process.” In other words, the treatment EGLE thought was happening at the water treatment plant was based on wrong assumptions. In addition to providing evidence that all treatment issues have been resolved, EGLE needs to explain how this new finding affects all their previous conclusions that the Benton Harbor Water Treatment Plant meets all Safe Drinking Water Act requirements.
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