Lawsuit over Benton Harbor water seeks class-action status

Benton Harbor declares state of emergency due to water crisis

BENTON HARBOR, Mich. – Michigan and local officials have been targeted in a lawsuit over high levels of lead in Benton Harbor’s drinking water.

The lawsuit, filed this week in federal court, accuses the state and city of “deliberate indifference” in their response to the problem, which began to emerge in 2018. Doretha Braziel, one of many Benton Harbor residents listed in the lawsuit, said she only recently became aware that she should avoid drinking the water.

“The number of injured individuals who have been injured by exposure to lead in the Benton Harbor water is in the thousands,” according to the lawsuit, which seeks class-action status.

The lawsuit was filed a week after the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency said it found a variety of violations at the Benton Harbor water plant as well as problems with how the city had communicated with residents about lead in the water.

The state has been supplying free bottled water for weeks and is pledging to help Benton Harbor replace lead service lines outside homes. Lead has been leaching from old pipes, although chemicals to reduce corrosion have been applied.

A spokesman for Gov. Gretchen Whitmer defended the state's response. Bobby Leddy said regulators ordered corrosion control and urged the city to reach out to residents.

Benton Harbor is a predominantly Black, mostly low-income community of 9,100 people, about 100 miles (160 kilometers) from Chicago.

A judge this week gave final approval to a $626 million settlement with Flint residents whose water was contaminated in 2014-15 with lead and bacteria. The state is paying $600 million.