Work continues on removing lead water lines in Benton Harbor

FILE - In this Friday, Oct. 22, 2021 file photo, a lone resident of Benton Harbor, Mich., walks across Britain Street Friday, Oct. 22, 2021, near the city's water tower in Benton Harbor. The water system in Benton Harbor has tested for elevated levels of lead for three consecutive years. (AP Photo/Charles Rex Arbogast, File) (Charles Rex Arbogast, Copyright 2021 The Associated Press. All rights reserved)

BENTON HARBOR, Mich. – More than 400 water service lines in Benton Harbor have been replaced or verified to be free of lead, according to state officials.

City officials also are reviewing bids from contractors for removal of an estimated 3,900 lead service lines, Michigan's Department of Health and Human Services said this week in a release.

Accelerated work is expected to start in March. Gov. Gretchen Whitmer has directed that all of the city’s lead lines be replaced by spring 2023, officials said.

Service lines connect city water mains to homes and businesses. Lines made of lead are a source of lead contamination in drinking water.

Elevated lead levels in water from taps over several years has resulted in residents being forced to use bottled water being provided by the state. Lead can slow cognitive development and is especially dangerous for children.

Much of the water distribution network in Benton Harbor is around 100 years old. The city of roughly 9,100 residents about 100 miles (160 kilometers) from Chicago is predominantly Black and mostly low-income.

In the wake of the Flint water crisis, Michigan passed the nation’s tightest requirements for reducing lead in drinking water, implementing new testing standards and timelines for lead pipe replacement. Despite those changes, advocacy groups in September told the Environmental Protection Agency in a petition that city and state officials had not acted quickly enough to address Benton Harbor’s problems.