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Whitmer Promises ‘Whole-Of-Government Response’ To Lead-Filled Water, Three Years After First Alert

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Michael Ginsberg Congressional Reporter
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Democratic Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer signed an executive order Thursday promising a “whole-of-government response” to tests showing lead in the drinking water of Benton Harbor, three years after the state was first made aware of the problem.

For six consecutive sampling periods over the last three years, the Benton Harbor water system has failed to meet the regulatory standard for lead,” Whitmer wrote. Her order directs state agencies to provide bottled water to residents, and “take all appropriate action to leverage available state resources” in replacing lead municipal home pipes.

Benton Harbor residents were first told of the lead contamination on Oct. 24, 2018, after water in eight homes tested above the state’s action level of 15 parts per billion (ppb), Michigan Live reported at the time. Residents whose homes tested positive for the lead taint were provided with bottled water, but the state did not take immediate action to replace lead pipes.

Residents say that the state of Michigan was too slow in responding to the crisis, only taking action after they submitted a petition to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

“We never thought it would take this long, three whole years,” Reverend Edward Pinkney, president and chairman of the Benton Harbor Community Water Council, told local FOX 17 on Oct. 12.

According to the EPA petition, the Michigan Department of the Environment, Great Lakes, and Energy (EGLE) “delayed requiring a fully compliant corrosion control study” to study the lead taint, which could lead to Benton Harbor’s lead taint to continue for another 36 months.

The petition also questions the sampling method EGLE used to determine the quantity of lead in the Benton Harbor water supply, due to an alleged “dilution of the initial compliance samples.”

A spokesman for EGLE redirected the Daily Caller’s request for comment to the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services (HHS).

“In Benton Harbor, many efforts have taken place since 2019 including but not limited to educational outreach, regular water sampling, mobile blood lead testing events, nursing case management of children who have elevated blood lead levels, health care provider outreach, filter distribution, free lead environmental investigations and lead abatement, and community training. More than 2,600 filters and replacement cartridges have been distributed to Benton Harbor residents since January 2019,” a Michigan HHS spokeswoman told the Daily Caller.

In a press release accompanying her executive order, Whitmer stated that her goal for Benton Harbor is to “ensure that 100% of the pipes are lead-free in the next 18 months.”

As a candidate for governor in 2018, Whitmer frequently invoked her Republican predecessor Rick Snyder’s handling of the Flint Water Crisis. In campaign literature, she accused him of “ignor[ing]… communities of color… when they speak out.” Whitmer also claimed that Snyder and other state officials “actively hid the truth from the public.” (RELATED: Michigan Judge Charging Republicans In Flint Water Crisis Has History Of Donating To Democrats)

Whitmer’s office did not respond to the Daily Caller’s request for comment on why she did not sooner announce a plan to replace Benton Harbor’s lead pipes.

Whitmer, up for re-election in 2022, will likely have to address the state’s response to the Benton Harbor water supply on the campaign trail.

“After failing to take action for nearly three years, Gov. Gretchen Whitmer is now attempting to cover-up her inaction with the Benton Harbor Water Crisis. I am concerned for families in Benton Harbor, who are now appealing to the federal government because Whitmer ignored them for so long. It’s no coincidence she’s finally trying to address this crisis before re-election, because for Whitmer, it’s politics over people,” Republican gubernatorial candidate and former Detroit police chief James Craig told the Daily Caller.