Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer (D) is scrambling to contain a growing scandal after she promised to remove lead from drinking water in Benton Harbor within five years.
Benton Harbor, a community of about 9,600 residents in Southwest Michigan, has been struggling to deal with the poison in the water, and after negative national media attention, Whitmer this week vowed an “all-hands-on-deck” approach to dealing with the problem.
“Every Michigander deserves safe drinking water, and every community deserves lead-free pipes,” Whitmer said Thursday, WSGW reported. “We will not rest until the job is done and every parent feels confident to give their kid a glass of water knowing that it is safe.”
Benton Harbor has been affected with lead issues since 2018 — the entirety of Whitmer’s term.
The governor ordered bottled water to be distributed to the community, but the Detroit News reported the state did not do enough to warn residents about the present dangers:
State and city officials treated Benton Harbor’s drinking water with a corrosion chemical blend that failed to control harmful levels of lead for more than two years and rejected federal requirements to fully study its effectiveness.
As state officials waited to see if the treatment reduced lead to acceptable levels, they didn’t warn Benton Harbor residents that their water was unsafe or provide alternatives, such as bottled water, until late September.
“Michigan has the strongest lead in drinking water regulation in the nation, so how did another majority Black city get to three years of elevated lead levels in drinking water without anybody really batting an eye?” said Nick Leonard, executive director of the Great Lakes Environmental Law Center, told the paper.
“The Whitmer administration knew for years that water in Benton Harbor wasn’t drinkable and never warned residents,” Michigan Freedom Fund Executive Director Tori Sachs said in a news release. “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.”
“It took Governor Whitmer two years to acknowledge a public health crisis was unfolding in Benton Harbor and she still has not declared a public health emergency,” said Eric Ventimiglia, Executive Director for Michigan Rising Action. “Whitmer’s failures are getting more and more dangerous, and she cannot even be bothered to show up to explain what her administration will do to rectify the situation.”
The scandal comes after Flint made national headlines for similar issues after residents were poisoned by drinking water.
State Attorney General Dana Nessel (D) charged former Gov. Rick Snyder (R) — Whitmer’s predecessor — with two misdemeanors for his alleged role in the scandal.
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Cooper Moran is a reporter for The Star News Network. Follow Cooper on Twitter. Email tips to [email protected]
Photo “Gretchen Whitmer” by Gretchen Whitmer and photo “Benton Harbor” by Humbles Art CC BY-SA 3.0.