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'We’re all just trying to pull together': Benton Harbor water site volunteers will now be paid $15 an hour

The State of Michigan has agreed to remove and replace all of the lead water pipes in the city within the next 18 months
Benton Harbor Water Site
Posted at 4:13 PM, Oct 29, 2021
and last updated 2021-10-29 17:21:06-04

BENTON HARBOR, Mich. — The State of Michigan has agreed to remove and replace all of the lead water pipes in Benton Harbor within the next 18 months. It's a major relief for those living there, but volunteers have been trying to bring attention to the crisis for years.

Advocates like Reverend Edward Pinkney have spent the last two-and-a-half years urging local and state officials to do something about the unsafe water coming into their homes.

Volunteers have distributed thousands of cases of bottled water to residents over that time, donating their time and energy for no pay.

This week, the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services announced that volunteers will begin getting paid $15 an hour for their work. They can also receive back pay for hours worked between Oct. 1 and now.

“Their eligibility will be approved by the community organization with whom they are working, but basically we are looking for people who are residents of the city and interested in helping out,” Elizabeth Hertel, Director of the MDHHS, told FOX 17 in an interview Friday.

Rev Pinkney is the President and Chairman of the Benton Harbor Community Water Council, a group formed in 2018 after they sent out several water samples to be tested.

“They examined it... it came out to be more than 300 parts per billion. From there, we decided we had to do something, so we went to work,” he told FOX 17 back on October 12.

At the time, Governor Gretchen Whitmer had committed to a five-year plan to replace the lead pipes in the city.

Pinkney, along with help from the Natural Resources Defense Council, submitted an emergency petition to the EPA in September, which prompted almost immediate action from the state of Michigan.

On Sept. 30, the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services began distributing cases of bottled water to anyone living in Benton Harbor, hosting the sites at churches throughout the city. Later, on Oct. 11, they announced that they would also offer free lead blood tests for children and home inspections for anyone who shows signs of lead in their system.

Volunteers like Carolina Gray and Frances Davis were excited to hear the news Friday that they would soon be paid for their work.

“We’re all just trying to pull together. That's what it’s all about, everybody pulling together,” Gray said Friday.

Davis saying, “We’ve put in a lot of hours, and we use our vehicles to deliver... so that is wear and tear. So yeah, I think that will be nice.”

All the developments happening in the last month are a testament to the tireless efforts of the committed people of Benton Harbor.

“Its simple, just do the right thing, and it shouldn’t be that difficult to do the right thing, especially when it comes to human beings,” Rev Pinkney said Friday.

You can find out when and where the next water bottle distributions will be HERE.

READ MORE: Michigan's 'Lead and Copper Rule' expediting state's lead-removal efforts

READ MORE: Bottled water distribution dates, locations for Oct. 30 - Nov. 3 announced in Benton Harbor

READ MORE: City officials say Benton Harbor water system operating normally after water main break

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