BENTON HARBOR, Mich. — In October, the state of Michigan committed to removing and replacing all of the lead water lines in the city of Benton Harbor within an 18-month timetable. While work began at the start of November, some advocates are worried the process is happening far too slowly.
There are approximately 4,000 lead water lines in the city that will be replaced in the process. A handful of local contractors have been issued contracts to complete the task.
“To me, we’re heading in the right direction, but we must continue to make sure they’re doing the things they need to do,” Rev. Edward Pinkney told FOX 17 Friday afternoon.
“If we get this thing right, and there will be some challenges, but if we get it right, this could be the model all across the country.”
Reverend Pinkney heads up the Benton Harbor Community Water Council, a group that has been advocating for state action for over the past two and a half years.
The group identified lead in the city's tap water several years ago, but only months ago did the state officially acknowledge that their water may be unsafe to drink or use.
According to the EPA, "lead is a toxic metal that can be harmful to human health even at low-exposure levels. Lead is persistent, and it can bioaccumulate in the body over time." They say any amount of lead at all in drinking water is potentially harmful.
Gov. Gretchen Whitmer was on hand as work began on the city's water lines back on Nov. 8, but Reverend Pinkney believes the process isn't going nearly fast enough at this point.
“At the rate they're going now, it might take them two to three years,” he said.
“Slow, extremely slow... Which, the weather could be a factor of that too.”
READ MORE: State of Michigan pledges 'all-hands-on-deck' approach to clean, safe drinking water in Benton Harbor
The Michigan Department of Health and Human Services began distributing cases of bottled water to residents of Benton Harbor on Sept. 30. They canceled their daily distribution site on Friday due to inclement weather.
Despite the rash of snowy weather this week, Reverend Pinkney and his volunteers were still out delivering cases of bottled water to anyone in need.
“Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday was [sic] extremely difficult, but everyone showed up,” he explained Friday.
“The wind was blowing, the lake effect snow was coming in, but they showed up.”
He knows the community will have to keep the momentum going on the ground until the day all of their water lines are replaced, and hopes the state will end up doing more to help.
“Benton Harbor is a very, very poor community, yet, still for three years, they had to pay their water bill, or have their water cut out,” he said.
“I think the governor should come in and say, 'Hey, nobody should be paying water bills in the city of Benton Harbor, and also, we’re going to give you a voucher, if not for three years, at least for two years.'”
READ MORE: Benton Harbor residents: Pick up bottled water at these locations (Jan. 8–14)