EGLE discusses Benton Harbor water plant violations, says report was not punitive

BENTON HARBOR, Mich. — Benton Harbor must make significant changes to its water plant immediately, or face fines, after multiple deficiencies were discovered during an inspection. 

A joint inspection by the EPA and Michigan EGLE in September prompted an order Tuesday for the city to address its violations of the Safe Water Drinking Act.  

“The maintenance of equipment, how it’s calibrated, testing protocols, the treatments they run on the water – a lot of those were found to be lacking,” said Hugh McDiarmid, Communications Manager for Michigan EGLE. 

Violations included the water’s chlorine dosing not being properly calculated, overflowing chemical tanks due to a lack of automation and problems with its filters – like broken washer arms, valves and panels at the filters not functioning.  

The EPA said the city also failed to notify customers of high levels of lead in certain homes in their water bills.

Mayor Marcus Muhammad responded in a statement, saying, “If criticism, condemnation and recommendations are not accompanied with funding to fix the problem it is mere symbol without substance. A struggling Black community is told what is wrong with it without providing money and help to solve the problem. This is the classic conclusion of systemic racism which is Blame the victim.”

EGLE emphasized the inspection wasn’t punitive and no fines will be issued to the city if they make all the improvements on time.

“We have a coalition working on lead now which includes state agencies, the EPA, our agency, local community groups, the city – we can solve the problems in Benton Harbor’s water permanently,” said McDiarmid. 

The city has now been ordered to inform customers of Lead Action Level Exceedances in drinking water, improve its applications of chlorine for disinfecting and orthophosphate for corrosion, make filter repairs and use a third-party to do analysis of long-term alternatives. 

 

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