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Upton, Dingell Seek Urgent Answers and Further Assistance from EPA on Benton Harbor Lead Water Crisis

BENTON HARBOR, MICHIGAN – Last Friday, U.S. Reps. Fred Upton (R-MI) and Debbie Dingell (D-MI) sent a letter to Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Administrator Michael Regan seeking urgent answers, increased water testing, and further assistance on the ongoing lead contamination crisis in Benton Harbor, Michigan. Among several questions, the lawmakers requested a summary of the EPA’s work with Michigan’s Department of Environment, Great Lakes, and Energy (EGLE) and a clear record of resources that the EPA has provided to the city and state for bottled water, water filters, and lead line replacement. Upton and Dingell have called for an “all-hands-on-deck” effort to resolve this pressing public health crisis and determine exactly what is needed moving forward, including an EPA study on water filter efficacy in Benton Harbor.

Last October, Upton helped secure $5.6 million in federal funds, which were deployed beginning yesterday, to replace lead waterpipes and restore clean water to homes and businesses in Benton Harbor as expeditiously as possible. To date, roughly 6,000 waterpipes in Benton Harbor fail to meet federal lead standards and must be replaced.

“The City of Benton Harbor is home to about 10,000 Michiganders – the vast majority are African American, and all of whom have been without clean drinking water for far too long,” wrote the lawmakers. “In some areas, lead levels have shown to be nearly sixty times the federal standard. This is simply not acceptable. Clean water is not a luxury; it is a basic necessity for every American family.”

On Friday, both Upton and Dingell voted for the bipartisan Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, which passed the U.S. House of Representatives by a vote of 228 to 206. This comprehensive legislation – which Upton and Dingell helped write as members of the influential Energy and Commerce Committee and the bipartisan Problem Solvers Caucus last summer – will provide $1.3 billion for lead line replacement in Michigan and another $10 billion to clean up PFAS contamination locally and nationwide.

You can read the full letter HERE or below:

Dear Administrator Regan:

We write today with regard to the ongoing lead contamination crisis in the drinking water system in Benton Harbor, Michigan. The City of Benton Harbor is home to about 10,000 Michiganders—the vast majority are African American, and all of whom have been without clean drinking for far too long. In some areas, lead levels have shown to be nearly sixty times the federal standard. This is simply not acceptable. Clean water is not a luxury; it is a basic necessity for every American family.

We appreciate your continued coordination with state and local officials on the ground regarding this matter and we understand you recently issued an order under the Federal Safe Drinking Water Act (SDWA) for Benton Harbor to immediately improve the safety of its drinking water. With this order in mind, we have several questions that we would like answered to help us understand the actions taken thus far, as well as the actions the EPA plans to take moving forward:

        1. Can you provide a summary of the agency’s engagement with Michigan’s Department of Environment, Great Lakes, and Energy (EGLE) on Benton Harbor from 2018 to the present?

        2. Can you share what arrangements, timelines, and benchmarks have been established for remedying the issues described in the Order and when Benton Harbor will return to full compliance with the SDWA?

        3. Can you provide an update on the study on water filter efficacy in Benton Harbor, including the scope and a firm timeline for completing the study? We would strongly urge this study to be designated a high priority and completed as soon as possible.

        4. What is the status of corrosion control in Benton Harbor’s water system right now? When will it be optimized and what steps need to be taken to do it?

        5. What funding has the agency provided the city and State to date on water infrastructure, bottled water, and filters? What other resources have been provided by the Federal government to Benton Harbor or its residents?

        6. What types of technical assistance will EPA provide to the City of Benton Harbor to aid in compliance with its recent order?

        7. As we try to identify the full magnitude of the problem, can EPA provide a roadmap of funding to allow for full testing for residents and businesses in Benton Harbor?

Thank you for your continued attention to this important matter and the efforts underway to address this serious drinking water crisis. We look forward to a full and prompt response and stand ready to work with federal, state, and local officials, as well as all other stakeholders across the Benton Harbor community, to ensure the water is safe to drink.

Sincerely,

Fred Upton                 Debbie Dingell

Member of Congress  Member of Congress

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