The Benton Harbor Water Filtration Plant is pictured in 2021.

BENTON HARBOR — Lead levels in Benton Harbor’s drinking water continue to drop, with the most recent round of six-month testing showing the city at just below the federal action level, according to the Michigan Department of Environment, Great Lakes and Energy.

The laboratory analysis of samples taken from 63 city residences between Jan. 1 and June 30 showed only five homes exceeded the federal action level, which is 15 parts per billion (ppb) of lead, according to a Thursday news release from EGLE.

The 90th percentile was 14 ppb, with test results ranging from zero to 53 ppb. The 90th percentile for the last half of 2021 was 15 ppb. For the first half of 2021, the 90th percentile was 24 ppb.

Benton Harbor Mayor Marcus Muhammad said this is good news, but more work needs to be done.

“We want zero parts per billion for all homes. However, we’re moving toward that,” Muhammad said when contacted by phone Thursday.

He said a lot of work has been done to remove lead from the city’s drinking water since 2018, when the city was first placed under a lead advisory by the state.

In 2018, eight of the 30 Benton Harbor homes tested for lead over the summer were above the federal action level, and the 90th percentile of the samples was 22 ppb for lead. The city has been required to test homes for lead every six months since then.

Muhammad said in 2018, it was estimated it would take the city 20 years to replace all of the lead water service lines in the city.

Then, in October 2021, Michigan Lt. Gov. Garlin Gilchrist II came to Benton Harbor to announce the state was partnering with the city to replace all of the lead water service lines within 18 months and would provide free bottled water to residents until the project was completed.

The city has received more than $50 million in state and federal grants and loans to not only replace the lead water service lines, but to make improvements to the city’s water treatment plant.

In January, city commissioners awarded $33.2 million in contracts to five contractors to replace the city’s lead water service lines by April 19, 2023.

So far, 71 percent of the water service lines have either been replaced or verified as being free of lead, according to the Benton Harbor Lead Service Line Replacement Status Dashboard.

“This is positive news and an indication that Benton Harbor’s drinking water system is remaining stable while the city accelerates this critical infrastructure work,” Eric Oswald, director of EGLE’s Drinking Water and Environmental Health Division, said in the release. “Having said that, today’s news does not lessen the urgency around our continuing efforts to assist the city in aggressively reducing lead exposure – through lead service line replacement and corrosion control treatment.”

Residents are still advised to use filtered or bottled water for cooking, drinking, brushing teeth, rinsing foods and mixing powdered infant formula.

Water filters

Free bottled water and water filters will continue to be provided by the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services for Benton Harbor residents.

Residents can receive free water filters, filter cartridge refills and filter installation assistance from the Berrien County Health Department.

They can receive a free certified filter and replacement cartridges by mail by calling 844-875-9211. They also can visit the health department from 8:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday at 2149 E. Napier Ave. or the Center for Better Health from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Tuesday through Friday at 100 W. Main St.

Bottled water

To arrange water bottle delivery to homebound or residents without transportation in the city, they are asked to call 211, which is available 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Phones that cannot contact 211 should contact 844-875-9211.

Benton Harbor residents can pick up water at the Boys & Girls Club of Benton Harbor Fettig Youth Campus at 600 Nate Wells Sr. Drive, on the following dates:

Saturday, noon to 2 p.m.

Sunday, 2-4 p.m.

Tuesday, 9-11 a.m.

The water bottle recycling trailer is now located in Housing Commission parking lot at 721 Nate Wells Sr. Drive. This location is adjacent to the water distribution site at the Boys & Girls Club to continue to allow easy access for empty water bottle recycling for residents.

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

Staff Writer at The Herald-Palladium