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More Than 400 Water Lines Replaced, Verified In Benton Harbor; Officials Looking To Accelerate Work

BENTON HARBOR, Mich. (CBS Detroit/AP) — More than 400 water service lines in Benton Harbor have been replaced or verified to be free of lead, according to state officials.

City officials also are reviewing bids from 13 contractors for removal of an estimated 3,900 lead service lines, Michigan's Department of Health and Human Services said last week in a release.

Accelerated work is expected to start in March, four to six of the contracting firms expected to be hired. Gov. Gretchen Whitmer has directed that all of the city's lead lines be replaced by spring 2023, officials said.

Service lines connect city water mains to homes and businesses. Lines made of lead are a source of lead contamination in drinking water.

"We appreciate the cooperation of residents and collaboration with the state on this endeavor to help make sure that lead service lines are replaced, and water is safe when it comes out of faucets in Benton Harbor homes and businesses," said Benton Harbor Mayor Marcus Muhammad.

Elevated lead levels in water from taps over several years has resulted in residents being forced to use bottled water being provided by the state. Lead can slow cognitive development and is especially dangerous for children.

Much of the water distribution network in Benton Harbor is around 100 years old. The city of roughly 9,100 residents about 100 miles from Chicago is predominantly Black and mostly low-income.

Officials say the replacements are at no cost to homeowners; however, contractors must sign a "right of entry" form to access private yards to complete the work.

In the wake of the Flint water crisis, Michigan passed the nation's tightest requirements for reducing lead in drinking water, implementing new testing standards and timelines for lead pipe replacement. Despite those changes, advocacy groups in September told the Environmental Protection Agency in a petition that city and state officials had not acted quickly enough to address Benton Harbor's problems.

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