Michigan sending water, filters to Benton Harbor due to lead

The state of Michigan will provide bottled water and water filters in Benton Harbor, where tests have revealed elevated levels of lead, a spokesman said Wednesday.

The action comes less than two weeks after about 20 groups urged the Biden administration to immediately step in. They said local and state officials have not adequately responded since the contamination was discovered three years ago in the Black, mostly low income community.

Related: Whitmer proposes spending $200M to replace lead water pipes

The Department of Environment, Great Lakes and Energy will provide bottled water and go door-to-door to ensure proper installation of faucet filters, spokesman Scott Dean told the Detroit Free Press.

Testing children is also part of the plan. Free water will be available until the filter distribution is completed. The target is Oct. 8.

"The state of Michigan remains committed to ensuring every Michigander has access to safe drinking water," Dean said.

A local activist, the Rev. Edward Pinkney, praised the moves but noted that three years have passed since elevated lead levels were revealed.

The National Resources Defense Council, or NRDC, said the free water should continue beyond early October.

"There’s this ongoing issue — as we all saw in Flint — of filter maintenance, and of ensuring that the filters are being used properly," Cyndi Roper of the NRDC said. It shouldn’t end "with a swing through the community, dropping off filters and having a conversation about filter use."

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer has called for spending $20 million in Benton Harbor to replace nearly 6,000 service lines, most suspected of containing lead, within five years.

Benton Harbor is in the southwestern corner of Michigan, roughly 200 miles from Flint, where lead flowed through old pipes in 2014-15 because water pulled from a river wasn’t properly treated to reduce corrosion.