More water woes for Benton Harbor after pipe rupture

Michigan

Benton Harbor Mayor Marcus Muhammad discusses the state of emergency issued for lead water contamination. (Oct. 19, 2021)

BENTON HARBOR, Mich. (WLNS) — A YMCA offered showers and after a southwestern Michigan city, already struggling with lead in its water, lost most water service due to a pipe rupture.

“No water is a 911. It’s a major problem,” Benton Harbor Mayor Marcus Muhammad said.

State of Michigan and local officials have made additional free bottled water available to Benton Harbor residents in response to the water main break Tuesday afternoon.

Additionally, schools were closed today as a result of the break.

According to the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services (MDHHS), the water main break occurred amid the state’s accelerated, across-the-board effort to reduce the risk of exposure to lead in Benton Harbor drinking water while the city replaces all lead service lines.

The water main break also caused residents across the city to lose water pressure.

“The 89-year-old water main burst and is taking longer than expected to address,” Muhammad said on Twitter. “The contractors are still working on getting the water level down in order to repair the water main.”

In Lansing, Eric Oswald, head of Michigan’s drinking water division, told state lawmakers that the pipe could be repaired later Thursday.

It’s another blow for Benton Harbor, a predominantly Black, mostly low-income community of 9,700, about 100 miles (160 kilometers) from Chicago. Residents have been urged to use free bottled water for drinking and cooking due to elevated levels of lead, though bathing and washing clothes with tap water is OK.

Benton Harbor, like many communities, gets water from Lake Michigan, but the system moves water to homes through old lead pipes. The state and city hope to have the lines replaced in less than two years.

Lead is considered harmful at any level, and children are particularly vulnerable because it can slow growth and result in behavioral problems.

Meanwhile, a state House committee in Lansing was holding a hearing on Benton Harbor’s lead and the state’s response.

Despite the setback, the MDHHS and local officials are working together to ensure that residents have access to water.

Later this afternoon, residents will be able to pick up free water later today at Brotherhood of All Nations,1286 Monroe St., from 4:00 p.m. to 6:00 p.m.          

Residents who could not attend a distribution site and need emergency water delivery can call 211 or the Berrien County Health Department hotline at 1-800-815-5485.

To arrange water delivery to homebound or residents without transportation in the city of Benton Harbor, residents can contact 211, which is available 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

EGLE offers the following guidance for Benton Harbor residents:

  • Residents should continue to use bottled water for cooking, drinking, making ice, brushing teeth, washing dishes, rinsing foods, and mixing powdered infant form The city will continue to be under a bottled water advisory for lead contamination even after water services is restored.
  • After the water pressure is restored, residents should flush the water taps for five minutes before using the water for washing hands, showering or bathing.
  • For faucets with removable aerators – small screens that trap sediments –remove them and clean any debris that has accumulated.
  • The water may have discoloration after service is restored. This is due to sediment disruption within the water lines caused by the disruption in pressure. While is not necessarily an indication of contamination, residents should run water until it is clear before using for showering, bathing and other non-consuming activities.
  • Flush toilets at least twice to move fresh water through the plumbing.
  • For faucets and showers: Run cold water taps at full flow for several minutes first, followed by hot water taps. If possible, remove faucet aerators before flushing.
  • Run an empty load in dishwashers and washing machines to clear the water lines.

Additional dates and locations for bottled water pick up will be added here.

For questions about the contamination, MDHHS can be reached at 866-691-5323 Monday through Friday from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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