Debra Shore, regional administrator for EPA Region 5, chats with The Herald-Palladium on Thursday at Forte Coffee in Benton Harbor.

BENTON HARBOR — Preliminary test results show the water filters given to Benton Harbor residents for almost three years effectively filter the lead out of the city’s tap water if used correctly, said Debra Shore, the new Region 5 administrator for the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

“(The results) seem to be showing that when the filters are installed and maintained and operated correctly, they are reducing lead levels to 1 or 2 parts per billion (ppb). But those are preliminary,” Shore said Thursday when she was in town to attend the second Benton Harbor Water Resource Fair.

However, Shore said EPA officials have found that many residents aren’t properly installing or maintaining the filters.

“What that speaks to is a need for education and information on how to install and maintain them,” she said. “When EPA folks have been discovering this, they have assisted the homeowners in installing the filters properly.”

She said final results of the study aren’t expected until February.

EPA officials started collecting water samples from residents to study the efficacy of the filters after a September inspection of the city’s water treatment plant found several deficiencies and violations.

The city was ordered in November to correct the problems.

If the final results show the filters are effectively removing the lead, Shore said the EPA will help distribute the filters and educate residents on how to use them.

She said this is important, as residents could start using the city’s tap water while waiting for all of the lead water service lines to be replaced.

Lead levels

Benton Harbor has been required to test its tap water every six months since October 2018, when the city was put under a state advisory for its water samples testing as having 22 parts per billion as its 90th percentile. The federal action level is 15 ppb.

State officials reported earlier this week that the latest round of testing this fall shows lead levels in the water are dropping, with the 90th percentile as 15 ppb.

In October, state officials recommended that city residents use bottled water for cooking, drinking, brushing teeth, rinsing foods and mixing powdered infant formula out of an abundance of caution until the EPA study is done.

Meanwhile, the state has ramped up efforts to replace all of the city’s lead water service lines in 18 months.

Shore said the whole government approach is needed to get all lead out of homes not just in Benton Harbor, but across the country. She said lead paint is still one of the leading causes of children being exposed to lead.

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

Staff Writer at The Herald-Palladium