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Clean water crisis: 'We don't want to play the blame game,' says Benton Harbor mayor

·Producer
·3 min read

The city of Flint, Michigan was a cautionary tale for drinking water, after undergoing a public health crisis that began in 2014 and ended in 2019. But about 200 miles west, Benton Harbor is currently facing a water crisis of its own.

In early September, about 20 organizations filed a petition with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to help provide safe drinking water in the low-income city in southwestern Michigan, after tests repeatedly showed excessive lead levels in the water supply.

To combat the issue, Benton Harbor Mayor Marcus Muhammad said in a recent interview with Yahoo Finance’s A Time for Change that he has taken a three-pronged approach by creating awareness, going after resources and correcting the problem. The good news — aid is on the way.

“We just recently received a $5.6 million grant from the EPA. Next month, we are going to receive $3 million from the state of Michigan, along with another $10 million once the governor signs the current budget" said Muhammad, adding that Benton Harbor will be getting another $10 million from other funds. 

The total figure comes in just shy of the $30 million that is needed to remove all of the city’s nearly 6,000 lead lines, according to Muhammad.

FLINT, MI - FEBRUARY 19: People gather in front of a church before participating in a national mile-long march to highlight the push for clean water in Flint February 19, 2016 in Flint, Michigan. The march was organized in part by Rev. Jesse Jackson. (Photo by Bill Pugliano/Getty Images)
FLINT, MI - FEBRUARY 19: People gather in front of a church before participating in a national mile-long march to highlight the push for clean water in Flint February 19, 2016 in Flint, Michigan. The march was organized in part by Rev. Jesse Jackson. (Photo by Bill Pugliano/Getty Images)

For perspective, the city of Flint has inspected 26,819 service lines and replaced 9,941 lead and galvanized pipes since 2016, according to NPR. Last year, Michigan’s attorney general announced a $600 million settlement for Flint residents as part of a class action lawsuit against state and local governments — an amount Flint Mayor Sheldon Neely told Yahoo Finance was “the floor, not the ceiling” when it comes to compensation for those impacted.

In the U.S., the White House says that up to 10 million American households and 400,000 schools and child care centers lack safe drinking water. The $1.2 trillion infrastructure bill proposes spending roughly $550 billion over five years, including a $55 billion investment, on clean drinking water — the largest ever of its kind.

Benton Harbor is a low-income, predominantly Black city in southwestern Michigan with a population just shy of 10,000 residents. The median household income is $21,916 and the poverty rate is 45.4%, according to latest Census Bureau data.

Muhammad said that people are panicked “given the fact that lead is a very serious issue in the drinking water," but the city is providing free filters, bottled water and testing. He stressed unity among residents, nonprofits and local, state and federal government.

“We don't want to play the blame game in the city of Benton Harbor, because we know nobody wins that game," he said. "We want to find solutions and, moving forward, bring all of the collective voices together so we can solve this problem.”

Pamela Granda is a producer for Yahoo Finance Live.

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