Benton Harbor residents wait for the U.S. EPA to decide if their Flint-like lead in drinking water problems deserve emergency status.
Approaching two weeks ago, residents of Benton Harbor, MI supported by two legal environmental groups, filed a petition with the U.S. EPA for the agency to immediately use its emergency authority to intervene in its drinking water crisis.
The issue, lead levels in the water that surpassed those of Flint when its crisis garnered local, state national and international attention. Scroll down for more on Benton Harbor's problems.
The two key words in the petition are "emergency" and "immediately." The petition wasn't a call to launch a prolonged investigation, it asked for help now.
For context, in October 2015 as Flint's situation was worsening, the Natural Resources Defense Council petitioned the EPA to use that same emergency authority to help the citizens of Flint. The EPA, two months later, declined to intervene. It said it would monitor Michigan's work to help Flint. Month's later, EPA did intervene when the failings of Michigan's Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) were too obvious to ignore.
What's the status of the emergency intervention for Benton Harbor, I asked the EPA.
A spokesperson responded that the agency is considering Benton Harbor's problems and is monitoring lead-related health issues. It has been in contact with citizens, the activist groups and the "State," though they weren't more specific as to who at "the State."
Given that the petition was for an emergency intervention, when would EPA decide to intervene or not? They'll get back to me on that one, they say.
I also contacted Michigan's Department of Environment Great Lakes and Energy (EGLE), the successor agency to the DEQ. No response to my latest inquiry, nothing.
I previously wrote that the Benton Harbor situation was eerily similar to that of Flint six years ago. So far, I see nothing from EPA or EGLE to change my view.
And there's this story headline today from the British publication, The Guardian. "A Black town's water is more poisoned than Flint's. In a White town nearby, it's clean." I'll let the story speak for itself.
More as the situation warrants.
Chicago-based environmental journalist