Wednesday, December 27, 2023

Mayor Marcus Muhammad failed the residents of Benton Harbor/Drinking water crisis

A petition was filed on September 9, 2021 to the US Environmental Protection Agency by Rev Edward Pinkney, Benton Harbor Community Water Council, and a group of local and state drinking water advocates.  They put a spot light on the lead contamination in Benton Harbor's drinking water system. The issues with Benton Harbor's system ran deep and the warning signs for drinking the water crisis were obvious as early as 2018. However, it took the united community voice of the Benton Harbor Community Water Council and the support of many partners to ensure that Mayor Marcus Muhammad, Gov. Whitmer, and the EPA would take action on this chronic public health issue. This included a petition filed by myself and the  BH Community Water Council to force quicker action.

In 2018, a sanitary survey conducted by the agency then know as the Department of Environmental Quality identified 10 significant deficiencies in the Benton Harbor water system. The survey identified significant issues with the water treatment system, the distribution system, system management and operations, and financial shortfalls. Notable, the sanitary survey did not highlight lead contamination as the primary concern and it's recommendation for minimizing lead risk was not given a high priority. The state tested 51 homes and 35 to 37 were above 15ppb, which is the action level.   

After Benton Harbor's water system exceeded the lead action levels for the first time in the fall of 2018, the governmental response lacked the urgency the crisis clearly called for and was characterized by a focus on the technical and bureaucratic of drinking water regulation rather than the big picture: the protection of public health, the protection of the residents, the protection of the city. What happened in Benton Harbor should not happen to any other city or town in America. It is up to the people, we must confront local, state and federal governments to make sure this never, ever happens again.       

Rev Edward Pinkney