Governor Gretchen Whitmer issued an executive order on Thursday aimed at ensuring access to safe drinking water for Benton Harbor.
“Every Michigander deserves safe drinking water, and every community deserves lead-free pipes,” stated Gov. Whitmer.
“I’m proud to sign an Executive Directive today that will pursue a whole-of-government approach to protect access to safe drinking water right now and work tirelessly to replace every lead service line in Benton Harbor as soon as possible.”
“I cannot imagine the stress that moms and dads in Benton Harbor are under as they emerge from a pandemic, work hard to put food on the table, pay the bills, and face a threat to the health of their children. That’s why we are also expediting the timeline to replace lead service lines in an effort to ensure that 100% of the pipes are lead-free in the next 18 months.”
Her directive comes a week after her administration urged residents to only drink and cook with bottled water.
Benton Harbor, a primarily Black and low-income community of 9,700 people, is located in Berrien County, about 100 miles (160 kilometres) northwest of Chicago.
For the last three years, tests have revealed lead levels considerably above the federal action threshold of 15 parts per billion.
Following the water crisis in Flint in 2014-15, Michigan enacted the nation's strictest lead-in-water rules. However, advocacy organisations such as the Benton Harbor Community Water Council recently pushed the Biden administration to assist, claiming that local and state initiatives, such as corrosion-control measures, were poorly executed and ineffectual.
In a written statement, the Rev. Edward Pinkney, head of the Benton Harbor Community Water Council, stated, "This is what we’ve been waiting for — an ‘all-hands-on-deck’ approach to fix the lead contamination crisis in Benton Harbor.”
Lead is toxic at any level, but children are especially vulnerable since it may stifle growth and create learning and behavioural issues.