Benton Harbor water under advisory for lead

Associated Press
From left, Benton Harbor Mayor Marcus Muhammad, Benton Harbor City Manager Darwin Watson and Berrien County Medical Director Dr. Rick Johansen hold a press conference Wednesday, Oct. 24, 2018, at City Hall in Benton Harbor, Mich., to let the public know that the city's water system is under a state advisory for lead after summer sampling revealed higher-than-acceptable levels.

Benton Harbor –  Benton Harbor’s water system has been placed under a state advisory after higher-than-acceptable levels of lead were found in the southwestern Michigan city’s drinking water, officials said.

The advisory from the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality notes that out of water samples collected from 30 homes this summer, eight were above an action level for lead, The Herald-Palladium reported. However, it said the Berrien County Health Department has detected no increase in lead levels in young children and the water is safe for bathing.

Elevated levels of lead in the drinking water can cause health problems and developmental delays in children.

Benton Harbor City Manager Darwin Watson said residents are being advised to take steps to reduce the amount of lead in their drinking water, including running cold water for three to five minutes before drinking or cooking with it. Bottled water is being recommended for preparing infant formula.

The city will provide water testing at no charge to any resident requesting it, Watson said at a news conference Wednesday.

Lead can get into water by leaching from lead service lines and older water fixtures, such as faucets. Stagnant water in pipes that aren’t used very often is more likely to contain higher lead levels than pipes where the water is circulated more often, Watson noted.

“Stagnant water allows for more interaction between the water and the pipes,” he said.

Benton Harbor, which has nearly 10,000 residents, is required to collect more water samples to determine if corrective actions need to be taken, such as changes to household plumbing. Benton Harbor was notified in May that it received almost $300,000 in state grant money to replace lead and galvanized steel water service lines.

At the time, Benton Harbor Water Superintendent Mike O’Malley estimated that 60 percent of the houses in Benton Harbor have lead and/or galvanized steel water lines from the main water line to the house.

Flint and other cities have faced problems with lead-tainted water. Lead leached from old water pipes into homes and buildings after Flint began using water from the Flint River in 2014 without adding corrosion-control chemicals. Flint returned to Detroit’s water system in 2015.

More recently, the board of Detroit’s public school district this month approved about $3 million for water hydration stations and related expenditures as it deals with high levels of lead and copper in some school water fixtures. Tests found elevated levels of lead or copper in dozens of schools.