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State urges Benton Harbor residents to use bottled water due to lead risk in drinking water

Maegan Tintari

The state of Michigan recommended Wednesday that Benton Harbor residents use bottled water for cooking, drinking, brushing teeth, rinsing foods and mixing powdered infant formula.

The recommendation comes "out of an abundance of caution to help ensure the health and safety of Benton Harbor city residents," according to Michigan's health department.

The recommendation is a significant change in the state's response to elevated levels of lead in Benton Harbor's drinking water.

Officials first found lead above the federal action level in the fall of 2018.

But this is the first time state officials have urged Benton Harbor residents to avoid consuming tap water.

Free bottled water has been made available to city residents for a few weeks through a local-state partnership and that will continue "as long as needed," said Lynn Sutfin, spokesperson for the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services.

Sutfin said many efforts by federal, state, local and community agencies have been taking place since 2018.

The efforts "include educational outreach, regular water sampling, mobile blood 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," said Sutfin.

State officials said unfiltered tap water can be used for showering or bathing, for washing hands and dishes, and for cleaning.

Virginia Gordan has been a part-time reporter at Michigan Radio since fall 2013. She has a general beat covering news topics from across the state.
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