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Volunteer Tracy Cummings helps distribute cases of bottled water to Benton Harbor residents at the Southwest Michigan Community Action Agency in Benton Harbor.

BENTON HARBOR — State health officials are recommending Benton Harbor residents use bottled water for cooking, drinking, brushing teeth, rinsing foods and mixing powdered infant formula due to elevated levels of lead in tap water that’s been tested.

“Protecting the health and safety of Benton Harbor residents is a top priority,” said Elizabeth Hertel, director of the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services, in a joint news release with Michigan Environment, Great Lakes and Energy. “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.”

In a statement released Wednesday, state officials said unfiltered tap water can be used for showering or bathing, for washing hands, dishes, clothes and for cleaning.

Benton Harbor has been under a state advisory for lead since October 2018, when routine summer sampling found higher-than-acceptable levels of lead in some of the city’s tap water.

According to the state advisory at the time, eight of the 30 Benton Harbor homes tested for lead over the summer of 2018 were above the action level of 15 parts per billion (ppb) for lead, and the 90th percentile of the samples was 22 ppb for lead.

Since then, the city has been required to test a sampling of homes every six months.

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Cases of bottled water are distributed to residents at the Southwest Michigan Community Action Agency in Benton Harbor.

The latest sampling done this summer found 11 out to 78 homes tested for lead were above the action level, with the 90th percentile at 24 ppb.

Shortly after the city was put under a state advisory, the Berrien County Health Department started giving out free water filters and cartridges to residents to filter the lead out of the water.

Wednesday’s news release stated the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is conducting a filter effectiveness study to gather data and provide confidence in the effectiveness of water filters to reduce lead in drinking water.

“The study is being conducted as an assurance measure and free bottled water will be provided as long as needed,” according to the release. “Further information on the completion date of the study will be shared by EPA when available.”

The state said more than 4,500 cases of bottled water have been delivered to the city, with another 15,500 on the way.

Bottled water is available at the following locations and dates:

4-6 p.m. Thursday at the Southwest Michigan Community Action Agency, 331 Miller St., Benton Harbor.

2-6 p.m. Friday at God’s Household of Faith, 275 Pipestone, Benton Harbor.

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Cars wait in line to receive cases of bottled water Wednesday at the Southwest Michigan Community Action Agency in Benton Harbor.

Additional dates and locations are expected to be added. Information will be posted on Michigan.gov/MiLeadSafe.

MDHHS can be reached at 866-691-5323 from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday for additional information about lead.

This action is part of an accelerated, across-the-board effort by multiple governmental and community organizations to reduce the risk of exposure to lead in drinking water while the city replaces all lead service lines.

Benton Harbor Mayor Marcus Muhammad said Wednesday that he’s grateful for all of the support from Gov. Gretchen Whitmer and the state and federal agencies to help city residents get access to safe drinking water.

“Cooperation, collaboration and coordination are the key ingredients moving forward to replace lead service lines and ensure that every resident is protected as we work to solve the water issues in Benton Harbor,” he said.

According to the EPA, lead can cause irreversible and life-long effects including decreasing IQ, focus and academic achievement, especially in children.

Contact: lwrege@TheHP.com, 932-0361, Twitter: @HPWrege