LANSING, Mich. – Governor Gretchen Whitmer’s administration knew for years that there were harmful levels of lead in the drinking water in Benton Harbor but rejected federal requirements to fully study the effectiveness of treatment measures and didn’t warn Benton Harbor residents their drinking water was unsafe or to provide alternatives like bottled drinking water, according to a shocking new report published first by The Detroit News.
Benton Harbor residents, clergy, safe water advocates, and environmentalists citing the state’s repeated failures to warn residents in the majority-Black city have now requested emergency federal intervention to protect residents from lead-tainted water.
According to today’s report, the Whitmer administration knew for years that there were elevated lead levels in Benton Harbor’s drinking water, that the water was unsafe to drink, and that there was “no meaningful public outreach” warning residents not to drink it. The EPA recommended the state study the use of corrosion inhibitor to protect residents, but the Whitmer administration rejected federal recommendations in part because they were “too costly.”
“The Whitmer administration knew for years that water in Benton Harbor wasn’t drinkable and never warned residents,” said Michigan Freedom Fund Executive Director Tori Sachs. “Governor Whitmer’s failure to warn local kids and families about dangerous water – and the decision to pinch pennies instead of conducting the safety studies recommended by the EPA – is absolutely indefensible. Whitmer’s absence from the press conference announcing the state’s response today is a dereliction of duty. Leaders take responsibility and solve problems - but Whitmer, always focused on political polling, was missing in action in Benton Harbor.”
The state’s previous governor, Rick Snyder, was criminally charged by Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel for failing to declare an emergency in Flint.