Volunteers and sites that are distributing bottled water in Benton Harbor will now be paid for their services as the city faces an ongoing elevated lead presence in its drinking water, according to the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services. Bottled water will continue to be free to residents while the city works to replace all lead service pipes.
“Benton Harbor residents have stepped up to help one another as the state provides free bottled water to the city to reduce the risk of exposure to lead in their drinking water,” the state’s Health and Human Services director Elizabeth Hertel said in a statement Thursday. “Ensuring that residents are compensated for their time is a priority for the state and will help ensure a sustainable, long-term solution and is the right thing to do.”
Under the new program, volunteers will be called “community ambassadors” and will be paid at a rate of $15 per hour retroactive to October 1. State-supported water bottle distribution sites will be responsible for hiring, managing and paying their workers.
On October 6, the state’s health departmentBenton Harbor residents to use bottled water instead of tap water for cooking, drinking and brushing teeth. To date, more than 100,000 cases of bottled water have been distributed to city residents, the department said.
The advisory came following a petition filed last month by environmental and public advocacy organizations alleging that lead in the city’s drinking water has posed “an imminent and substantial endangerment to Benton Harbor residents” for years.
The state said it is currently making an urgent and long-term effort to reduce lead in the city’s water.
According to the Environmental Protection Agency, there is no known safe level of lead in a child’s blood. Negative health effects of drinking water with a lead presence include behavioral issues, a lower IQ, hyperactivity, slowed growth, anemia, cardiovascular effects, decreased kidney function and reproductive problems.
Earlier this month, Governor Gretchen Whitmerreplacing all of Benton Harbor’s lead service lines will take up to 18 months and cost $30 million. As of October 19, the city still needed at least $11.4 million for the pipe replacement project.