Benton Harbor residents concerned about their drinking water after lead was detected

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BENTON HARBOR, Mich. — Joey Andrews was upset after he read the news that lead was found in a few homes in the city. Lead in the body, he said, is irreversible.

“Something needs to be done,” Andrews said during an interview. “We’re seeing a repeat of Flint over here on the west side of state and it’s heartbreaking.”

City officials announced Wednesday morning during a press conference that they’ve issued a public advisory regarding the drinking water. Elevated levels of lead were found in eight of the 30 homes that were tested over the summer. Those homes exceeded the 15 parts per billion mark.

“It is very concerning,” said City Manager Darwin Watson. “We want to make sure that we give all our residents the tools and education that they need to make sure that they’re safe and that they’re families are safe.”

The city is asking residents to run their water cold for 3-5 minutes before drinking it. They said it’s best use bottled water for infants and children.

“In Benton harbor is we have a lot of really old infrastructure,” said local business owner Japhy Bartlett. “There’s a lot of old houses. There’s a lot of old pipes and that’s generally where the lead comes from.”

Bartlett runs The Phoenix coffeeshop in the city’s art district. He said that their water is not affected. Because they serve coffee, they filter their water more aggressively than most businesses. He added that their pipes were changed when the area became gentrified over the last 10 years.

“We have this neighborhood where we’re fortunate enough to have good pipes and the poor neighborhoods that don’t,” Bartlett said. “We need to raise the low bar for the people who don’t have as good as an infrastructure as us.”

Watson said that city officials are currently in “investigation  mode” and they're working with the eight homes that were affected. They’re also going to be passing out test kits to any resident who wants one at 200 Paw Paw Avenue from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Thursday. He said they can take them home, fill them up with water, return it to them and they’ll test it.

Andrews said they’re grateful the issue is getting the attention that it deserves.

“There needs to be immediate action taken,” Andrews said.  “There can’t be a day that goes by now where we’re letting people continue to drink water that’s poisoned.”

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