Benton Harbor urged to use bottled water due to lead risk

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FILE – In this Sept. 21, 2018, file photo, is a closeup of pint bottles of purified water, Pure Life, manufactured by Nestle, on sale in a Ridgeland, Miss., convenience store. Global food giant Nestle is selling its North American bottled-water brands for $4.3 billion to a pair of private-equity firms that hope to reinvigorate sales. Brands including Poland Spring, Deer Park, Arrowhead and Pure Life will be sold to a subsidiary of One Rock Capital Partners in partnership with Metropoulos & Co. (AP Photo/Rogelio V. Solis, File)

BENTON HARBOR, Mich. (AP) — The state urged residents of a southwestern Michigan city to use bottled water for cooking and drinking Wednesday, a major shift in response to elevated levels of lead.

The state has been making free bottled water and filters available in Benton Harbor. But the announcement is the first time that authorities recommended that residents in the Black, mostly low income city reduce their use of tap water.

More than 15,000 cases will be delivered in the days ahead, the state said.

“We’ve listened to the community’s concerns and out of an abundance of caution, we are recommending that residents use bottled water for cooking, drinking and brushing teeth,” said Elizabeth Hertel, director of the state health department.

The state last month said it would go door-to-door to distribute filters and show how to install them. But in its latest statement, the state said the federal government is conducting a study to determine how effective the filters are in reducing lead in drinking water.

Benton Harbor, population 9,600, is in Berrien County. Environmental groups have accused Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s administration and local officials of failing to adequately respond since lead contamination was discovered three years ago.

Whitmer has called for spending $20 million in Benton Harbor to replace nearly 6,000 service lines, most suspected of containing lead, within five years.

Two hundred miles away in Flint, lead flowed through old pipes in 2014-15 because water pulled from a river wasn’t properly treated to reduce corrosion.

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