February 10, 2022 Submitted via email
Liesl Clark, Director
Michigan Department of Environment, Great Lakes, and Energy
Elizabeth Hertel, Director Michigan Department of Health And Human Services
Re: Benton Harbor Safe Water Plan
Dear Director Clark and Director Hertel,
Since a group of over 20 environmental and community organizations (collectively, “Petitioners”) came together in early September to file an emergency petition with the U.S. EPA regarding lead in Benton Harbor’s public water system, all levels of government have stepped up to provide a number of services to Benton Harbor residents. While these services were overdue, they have ensured that all residents of Benton Harbor have access to safe drinking water, have put the City on the path towards removing all lead service lines from its drinking water distribution system, and have provided key public health services.
The Petitioners are encouraged by the latest lead sampling results in Benton Harbor indicating that lead levels may finally be lowering after at least three years of being above the federal action level. However, high amounts of lead that can present significant health risks, particularly to infants, children, and pregnant mothers, still exist in Benton Harbor’s tap water. Additionally, since the environmental and community organizations filed their emergency petition, it has come to our knowledge that the Benton Harbor water treatment plant has long been operating in violation of federal drinking water standards regarding the surface water treatment rules, specifically regarding disinfection and filtration, which has created cause for concern that Benton Harbor's tap water may be contaminated with bacteria as well as lead. These violations were the primary focus of a unilateral administrative order executed by the U.S. EPA in early November which requires Benton Harbor to take a number of actions to ensure its water treatment plant complies with the Safe Drinking Water Act.
As work continues to address the many issues in Benton Harbor’s water system, the actions taken to ensure all Benton Harbor residents have safe drinking water will change. Benton Harbor residents do not want to rely on bottled water forever. However, the slow response to Benton Harbor’s water crisis has led many residents to distrust their tap water and it will take time to rebuild that trust. It is our hope that Benton Harbor residents will eventually be able to use point-of-use water filters with full confidence that their filtered water is safe and eventually ultimately will be able to drink water straight from their tap again without fear or apprehension. To rebuild the public’s confidence in their tap water, it is important that we move forward with caution and that we affirmatively ensure and confirm that water provided through point-of-use filters is safe from lead while also ensuring issues at the treatment plant are not causing additional contamination issues that filters cannot address.
As such, the Petitioners are recommending the following actions – referred to as the Benton Harbor Safe Water Plan - to ensure that all residents continue to have access to safe drinking water and to repair their broken trust in the local, state, and federal government:
1.) ContinueMakingFreeBottledWaterConvenientlyandWidelyAvailabletoAllBentonHarbor Residents
While relying on bottled water for all drinking and cooking needs is not easy, many Benton Harbor residents are not likely to trust the water coming out of their tap. Rebuilding this trust will take time and is dependent on a government response that centers community concerns. Additionally, lead is still present in Benton Harbor’s tap water at levels that present a high risk to infants, children, and pregnant mothers. Many mothers must continue to rely on bottled water to mix with powdered baby formula. Even after all lead service lines are replaced by the spring of 2023, there is still the risk that residual amounts of lead from lead service lines will remain for several months. Additionally, there will still be lead in household plumbing in many Benton Harbor homes. It is important that even at the time when water data indicate it is appropriate to transition to the use of point-of-use filters, that bottled water remain conveniently and widely available to all residents who prefer bottled water as their reliable source of safe drinking water.
Action: Continue to make free bottled water available for all Benton Harbor residents until all of the following conditions are met:
● At least 6 months after all lead service lines in Benton Harbor have been replaced;
● The Benton Harbor water system has demonstrated full compliance with the Safe
Drinking Water Act, and;
● The Benton Harbor water system implements the optimal corrosion control treatment to address the risk posed by lead in household plumbing.
2.) ConsideringtheBentonHarborwatertreatmentplantiscurrentlyoperatinginviolationofthe Safe Drinking Water Act, require the Benton Harbor water treatment plant to come into full compliance with the Safe Drinking Water Act and require a demonstration that point-of-use filters are effective at removing lead before providing Benton Harbor residents with point-of-use filters certified for lead reduction as well as instructions for filter installation and maintenance
For the past several months, the U.S. EPA has been studying the effectiveness of faucet-mount and pitcher water filters at reducing lead in Benton Harbor’s tap water. However, Benton Harbor’s water system issues go beyond lead. In November, the EPA executed a unilateral administrative order requiring Benton Harbor to make numerous repairs to its water treatment plant to ensure it is properly disinfecting and filtering the water to prevent potential bacteria contamination. The point of use water filters being studied in Benton Harbor are not capable of removing bacteria contamination.
We believe point-of-use filters in combination with convenient and widely available access to bottled water can play a key role in ensuring Benton Harbor residents have safe drinking water. However, we must first affirmatively ensure that point-of-use filters are effective at addressing the range of lead levels in Benton Harbor’s water system and ensure that the Benton Harbor treatment plant is in compliance with Safe Drinking Water Act requirements meant to prevent bacteria contamination given that such contaminants cannot be removed by point-of-use filters.
Action: Before distributing water filters and recommending them as a reliable source of safe drinking water in Benton Harbor, it must be demonstrated that:
● Benton Harbor is complying with public notification requirements regarding its ongoing violation of disinfection profiling and benchmarking requirements, as well as other treatment technique requirements, which ensure water systems implement proper disinfection treatments to control Cryptosporidium, Giardia, and viruses. At the very least, this should include complying with the public notification requirements required under the federal and Michigan Safe Drinking Water Act, which includes issuing a public notice to every household, either by mail or direct delivery, every 3 months until the violation is resolved that describes the violation, the potential adverse health effects, the population at risk, and when the supply expects to return to compliance;
● Benton Harbor’s water treatment plant is meeting all other Safe Drinking Water Act requirements;
● Benton Harbor has complied with all requirements provided in federal and state administrative or other enforcement orders regarding the federal and state Safe Drinking Water Act, including the U.S. EPA’s Unilateral Administrative Order and EGLE’s Administrative Consent Order; and
● Filter study results indicate point-of-use filters meet or exceed the NSF 53 filtration standard for lead reduction during the entire recommended filter use period in Benton Harbor’s water.
Once these criteria have been met, we believe it is appropriate to distribute point-of-use filters to residents while also providing them with the option to obtain free bottled water. However, a number of actions must be taken to ensure that filters are properly installed and used.
Action: Once the above criteria are met, distribute water filters via door-to-door delivery as follows:
● Water filters must be certified to meet the ANSI/NSF standard 53 for lead reduction and ANSI/NSF standard 42 for particulate reduction;
● Water filters should be distributed to each resident via door-to-door deliveries with the option of in-house installation assistance and hands-on education;
● Instructional materials on the proper installation and maintenance of filters as well as public education materials describing the health risks of consuming unfiltered tap water, the health effects of lead exposure, the effectiveness of filters at removing lead if properly installed and maintained, and information about obtaining replacement filters must be provided, and;
● Benton Harbor residents must be paid to assist with door-to-door filter distribution and education.
While progress is being made to ensure all Benton Harbor residents have access to safe drinking water, there is still a lot of work to do to not only ensure Benton Harbor’s tap water is safe but also to rebuild resident’s trust in their tap water. Rebuilding trust will take time and the government response must center the community, transparency, and public health.
We respectfully request a response to this letter by 5 p.m. on Monday, February 18th. We are also available to discuss the details of this letter in greater depth at your convenience.
Great Lakes Environmental Law Center 313-782-3372 | firstname.lastname@example.org
Submitted On Behalf Of:
Reverend Edward Pinkney, President, Benton Harbor Community Water Council
Mary Brady Enerson, Michigan Director, Clean Water Action
Rebecca Meuninck, Ph.D., Deputy Director, Ecology Center
Mona Monroe-Younis, Executive Director, Environmental Transformation Movement of Flint
Nayyirah Shariff, Director, Flint Rising
Liz Kirkwood, Executive Director, FLOW (For Love Of Water)
Jill Ryan, Executive Director, Freshwater Future
Jameela Maun, MA, Executive Director, Healthy Homes Coalition of West Michigan
Jamesa Johnson Greer, Executive Director, Michigan Environmental Justice Coalition Maureen Taylor, State Chair, Michigan Welfare Rights Organization
Cyndi Roper, Michigan Senior Policy Advocate, Natural Resources Defense Council Tabitha Williams, President, Parents for Healthy Homes
Sylvia Orduño, Organizer, People’s Water Board Coalition
Elin Betanzo, Principal, Safe Water Engineering, LLC
Rhonda Anderson, Sierra Club Michigan Chapter
Melissa Mays, Coordinator, Water You Fighting For
Monica Lewis-Patrick, President and CEO, We the People of Detroit
Amy Barto, M.Ed., President & Healthy Children Project Coordinator, Learning Disabilities Association of Michigan