A predominantly Black city in the state of Michigan is struggling to obtain clean drinking water and no, it isn't Flint. It's Benton Harbor, Michigan and it's not the first time that this has happened.
A recent report from the Associated Press has highlighted the state's failure to provide Black taxpayers in Benton Harbor with clean water. Lead levels in the city's water supply are reportedly higher than they were in Flint, Michigan at the height of its water crisis. As a result, many Benton Harbor residents have been forced to rely on bottled water to get by, but that isn't always an option. Several homebound residents have told the Associated Press that there is a hotline to call if someone is in need of clean water, but it will oftentimes take too long for water to arrive. With all that is going on, local leaders in Benton Harbor, Michigan were forced to declare a state of emergency.
The problem is clear. Benton Harbor residents need clean water, but it is unclear what caused the problem in the first place. If public officials don't identify the root cause, there is a possibility that the city could face a third water crisis down the line.
“What’s different in Benton Harbor than Flint — we don’t really know what caused the contamination there [in Benton Harbor],” Nick Leonard recently told WDET in Michigan.
”We saw elevated lead levels starting in 2018, but there was no similar discernible decision or event that seemed to cause that.”
Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer has taken the first step on the journey to fixing this issue. MLive.com has reported that Whitmer signed an executive directive that aims to address statewide failures in regards to drinking water. The six-part plan will require state officials to do a line-by-line review of drinking water policies among other changes to the way the state regulates drinking water supplies.
“Our top priority here remains guaranteeing safe drinking water for every Michigander, no matter who they are or where they live. We will not rest until every community has safe drinking water and every parent feels confident to give their kid a glass of water,” Whitmer said.
Officials from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency are also intervening. Members of the EPA will visit approximately 300 homes in Benton Harbor to test the water.
“Starting next week, we will be going into homes and collecting water that goes both through the filter and the water itself without the filters,” Terra Fong of the EPA told The Herald-Palladium.
While these efforts are a step in the right direction, this issue extends far beyond one city. A recent report from the University of Michigan found that predominantly Black cities throughout Michigan are systematically disadvantaged when it comes to water quality due to state laws.
“This state and this country has a history of making decisions based on race that leads to racial disparities,” Rita Brooks of the Flint Justice Partnership told Michigan Daily.
“It’s unfortunate that to this day people are still being discriminated against and experiencing environmental racism because of factors that are outside of their control.”
Reading about Black trauma can have an impact on your mental health. If you or someone you know need immediate mental health help, text "STRENGTH" to the Crisis Text Line at 741-741 to be connected to a certified crisis counselor. These additional resources are also available:
The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline 1-800-273-8255
The National Alliance on Mental Illness 1-800-950-6264
The Association of Black Psychologists 1-301-449-3082
The Anxiety and Depression Association of America 1-240-485-1001
For more mental health resources, click HERE.