Residents of Benton Harbor express frustration with response to major crisis | Port of Benton


BENTON HARBOR – Thomas Scott, a 70-year-old man, has lived in Benton Harbor his entire life.

He remembers seeing the banks leave town, actions he says triggered a long period of economic decline.

Now in the midst of the lead crisis, he and his neighbors are wondering what happened.

“Someone knew, but nobody did anything,” Scott said.

City officials began Obtain grants for replacement of lead pipes and sound the alarm in case of lead contamination in 2018, urging residents to have their water tested. Filters began to be distributed in early 2019.

But for residents who spoke to the Herald-Palladium this week, many were unaware of the city’s past and ongoing efforts and felt nothing had happened until October 7, when the residents were urged by the state to drink bottled water.

Scott was with Theodore Heggler and Michael Doss Thursday morning at Heggler’s. The latter two men are also life residents of Benton Harbor.

The city of about 10,000 inhabitants has been the subject of national media attention for several weeks. Heggler said he wondered what had taken so long, adding that officials knew the water was bad “from Flint.”

“This needs to be fixed,” Heggler said.

None of the three men had their water tested, but all began to drink bottled water. Doss said he was going to have the pipes inside his house replaced next month.

The men discussed the grants the city had received over the years and suggested that dollars had been earmarked for other things before the lines were replaced. All wanted the city to make sure residents didn’t have to pay for tap water they couldn’t drink.

Dennie Brown, another resident, echoed the three men.

The former police officer said he realized there was lead in tap water when Reverend Edward Pinkney came up with tests for residents.

“I wouldn’t be surprised if Benton Harbor already had a receipt for some of the repairs,” Brown said.

Mayor Marcus Muhammad told the Herald-Palladium the city replaced the lines he could with the money he had, but never had enough for all the needed repairs at once.

“This is a project worth over $ 30 million,” Muhammad said in a previous story. “The city has been in financial difficulty for decades. We don’t have the resources to replace all the lines.

Since October 9, 880 calls have been made to the 211 water line, which has been designated the Michigan Social Service Line. About two-thirds of these calls were for water delivery.

Lori Rollins lives in Benton Harbor with her daughter. She said she stopped drinking tap water a long time ago, but continued to cook with the water.

The water in her home has not been tested, but Rollins said she wanted her and her daughter’s blood tested for lead. She also said she felt someone could have communicated better with residents.

“We could have had the choice to cook with it,” said Rollins.

Almost 90,000 cases of bottled water were distributed in Benton Harbor from September 30 to October 26. Last week alone, 26 trucks brought more than half of these cases into the city.

Edward Johnson, a resident of Benton Harbor, had water delivered and collected from a distribution point.

In the spring, he had the water in his century-old home tested for lead.

Johnson said he couldn’t remember how much lead was in his water, but there was enough of it for him to get a filter. After the announcement, he switched to bottled water.

Having lived in this house and in Benton Harbor for decades, Johnson said he wondered if this push would really solve the problem. Even after replacing service lines, lead pipes and fixtures could still be in the house.

“You still have old plumbing in the houses,” Johnson said.

Several residents expressed concerns that the contaminated water had already affected their health.

Heggler said his stomach has been uncomfortable since hearing the news.

“(I) feel weird everyday, I have stomach issues,” Heggler said.

Brown said his children had moved, but his daughter recently lived with him while she was pregnant. He worries about how drinking tap water affects her and her grandson.

Additionally, Brown said he would likely need dialysis and worried about how the lead intake affected him.

Johnson said that as an older man he was taking all necessary precautions and was not as worried as he would be if he had children living with him.

“You just have to sit down and see what’s going on,” Johnson said.

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