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Benton Harbor residents sue city, state over water crisis

Benton Harbor City Hall
Posted at 4:23 PM, Nov 11, 2021

BENTON HARBOR, Mich. — Benton Harbor residents have filed a lawsuit in federal court, saying the city and state haven’t done enough to protect them from lead in the water.

It was filed Wednesday and residents are asking for about $76 million, court documents indicate.

The lawsuit notes officials’ “deliberate misconduct and active decision making to not enforce the U.S. and State of Michigan Safe Drinking Water Act” because the city didn’t warn residents of high lead levels in their water when officials first learned of it in 2018.

They say Gov. Gretchen Whitmer — who is also listed as a defendant — did not tell residents about the hazards of using the water to drink, cook, wash, bathe or brush one’s teeth until last month.

Residents face both a public health emergency and an environmental justice issue because of the high percentage of Black residents, the lawsuit said.

In addition, limited blood-lead testing has been performed on residents, including children.

The lawsuit asks for the following relief:

  • Repairs and compensation of property damage 
  • An immediate abatement of the lead service with replacement lines 
  • A water supply delivered to each home of adequate water until new service lines are replaced 
  • Establishment of a medical monitoring process, including funds and testing 
  • Appointing a monitor to oversee the water operations of Benton Harbor for all human purposes, for a period of time deemed appropriate by the court 
  • A community center and coordinator for children and adults with learning impairments and/or other needs, which require expertise 
  • Ongoing water lead testing for each home 
  • Testing blood lead levels for all in the City of Benton Harbor 
  • An order for an award of punitive damages 
  • An order for an award of actual reasonable attorney fees and litigation expenses 
  • An order for all such other relief as the court deems equitable 

Read the full lawsuit here:

Benton Harbor Federal Lawsuit by WXMI on Scribd

Governor Whitmer's office released a statement in response to the lawsuit, saying in part that the state government had been working with local partners in Benton Harbor since 2018 when the city's first lead exceedance was discovered.

The full statement reads:

"Every Michigander deserves access to safe drinking water and every community deserves lead-free pipes. Since the first lead exceedance was detected in 2018, the State of Michigan has been on the ground in Benton Harbor working with local partners on a solution to address the aging infrastructure. In accordance with the state’s strict Lead and Copper Rule, the state began urging the city to immediately conduct outreach to residents and ordered the city to apply corrosion control to try to bring down the levels and stabilize the drinking water. That is why the governor has issued an executive directive to bring a whole-of-government approach to ensuring that the people of Benton Harbor have safe drinking water. The state is providing free bottled water and setting an aggressive timeline to replace all the lead pipes in the next 18 months, which would’ve otherwise taken nearly 15 years to complete under state law. Work began this week to replace lead pipes in Benton Harbor, and we will continue to take every step necessary with the urgency and haste this threat demands to ensure parents in Benton Harbor can give their kids a glass of water with confidence."

READ MORE: Program to help Benton Harbor residents with water bills

READ MORE: EPA to begin testing water at 300 Benton Harbor homes

READ MORE: Gov. Whitmer visits first lead service line replacement site in Benton Harbor