EPA confirms filters reduce lead in Michigan city’s water

Mar 3, 2022, 12:33 PM | Updated: 1:06 pm
FILE - Kevin Stack with the Berrien County Road Department fills up jugs with non-potable water for...

FILE - Kevin Stack with the Berrien County Road Department fills up jugs with non-potable water for Elliot Napier in the Benton Harbor High School parking lot Thursday, Oct. 21, 2021, in Benton Harbor, Mich. The water system in Benton Harbor has tested for elevated levels of lead for three consecutive years. In response, residents have been told to drink and cook with bottled water and the state has promised to spend millions replacing lead service lines. (AP Photo/Charles Rex Arbogast, File)

(AP Photo/Charles Rex Arbogast, File)

ST. LOUIS (AP) — The filters distributed in Benton Harbor, Michigan during the city’s recent lead water crisis worked properly, according to a study state officials said was conducted to give residents assurance.

Michigan officials said the study was done “out of an abundance of caution” after residents and advocates in Benton Harbor slammed the state’s slow response to the city’s lead problem and requested more aggressive actions — including a study of the filters.

“We found that properly operated filters were successful in reducing lead considerably and consistently,” said Tera Fong, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s water division director for the region that includes Michigan.

But Fong noted the agency also found the filters were not being used properly in many cases, and that public outreach could help address the problem.

The filters were distributed in early 2019 after tests revealed high lead levels in the tap water of Benton Harbor. After elevated lead levels persisted, residents and activists raised concerns that the majority Black city was being ignored even in the wake of the crisis in Flint. Soon after, officials promised stronger corrective measures, including a filter study.

In the meantime, state officials recommended residents rely mostly on free bottled water, leading to residents waiting in long lines at distribution sites. State officials said water distribution is now offered daily and that cases can be delivered to residents who have difficulty picking them up.

The study released Thursday by the EPA found all samples from nearly 200 homes with properly used pitcher and faucet filters had low lead levels that were within federal guidelines. No lead was detected in the vast majority of samples.

The filters that were distributed in Benton Harbor are certified to reduce lead, unlike many standard at-home water filters, and are supposed to be used with cold water. Filter cartridges need to be replaced once they expire.

Michigan officials said recent tests show lead levels in the city’s tap water are within federal thresholds and that there are no other contamination issues. But they said the state will continue providing free bottled water until work replacing the city’s lead service lines is completed by the spring of 2023.

Lead exposure is a concern because of the health problems it can cause, particularly in young children who could experience issues including slowed cognitive development.

Filters have also been a part of the response to lead water crises in other cities and are important because they let residents continue using water in their homes, rather than having to lug cases of bottled water home.

But Ben Pauli, board president of one of the organizations that signed the petition in Benton Harbor and an activist during Flint’s crisis, said filters shouldn’t be used as an excuse to stop distributing bottled water, which some people prefer.

Elin Warn Betanzo of the consulting firm Safe Water Engineering said there wasn’t evidence of poor filter performance in Benton Harbor last year, but a “lack of data.” When deficiencies were identified at the city’s water plant beyond lead, she raised questions about the filters’ effectiveness and advocated for the response to rely on bottled water.

Concerns about filters became an issue in Newark, New Jersey, too. Though the vast majority of filters worked properly during that city’s crisis, trust in them was undermined after officials initially said they weren’t reliable based on a small number of results, said Jeannie M. Purchase, who researched water filters at Virginia Tech and now works at a Washington D.C water utility.

Purchase said cities should conduct studies before distributing filters and explain that no device is perfect, but that they are generally highly effective.

Darren Lytle, a lead scientist in the EPA’s Office of Research and Development, also noted that the water chemistry in Newark is different from Benton Harbor, making filter problems in Benton Harbor less likely. State officials said in October a study would be done to validate that.

Still, the decision to temporarily halt distribution of filters in Benton Harbor could undermine trust in them, said Sri Vedachalam, who heads the water program at the Environmental Policy Innovation Center.

Marc A. Edwards, a water treatment researcher at Virginia Tech, said whether officials provide bottled water during a lead crisis is a policy decision. He said filters are highly reliable at removing lead and that relying on bottled water can be expensive and inconvenient.

“Once communities get on to bottled water, it is a habit, and it is hard to get off,” he said.


The Associated Press receives support from the Walton Family Foundation for coverage of water and environmental policy. The AP is solely responsible for all content. For all of AP’s environmental coverage, visit https://apnews.com/hub/environment

Copyright © The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.


In this photo provided by Dax McDonald, an Amtrak passenger train lies on its side after derailing ...
Associated Press

3 killed, dozens hurt in Amtrak train crash in Missouri

MENDON, Mo. (AP) — An Amtrak passenger train traveling from Los Angeles to Chicago struck a dump truck Monday in a remote area of Missouri, killing three people and injuring dozens more as rail cars tumbled off the tracks and landed on their sides, officials said. Two of those killed were on the train and […]
19 hours ago
FILE - The drug misoprostol sits on a gynecological table at Casa Fusa, a health center in Buenos A...
Associated Press

Instagram and Facebook remove posts offering abortion pills

WASHINGTON (AP) — Facebook and Instagram have begun promptly removing posts that offer abortion pills to women who may not be able to access them following a Supreme Court decision that stripped away constitutional protections for the procedure. Such social media posts ostensibly aimed to help women living in states where preexisting laws banning abortion […]
19 hours ago
Associated Press

AP source: At least 40 found dead in back of tractor trailer

SAN ANTONIO (AP) — A U.S. official says at least 40 people have been found dead inside a tractor-trailer in a presumed migrant smuggling attempt in South Texas. The official says 15 others in the truck were taken to hospitals in the San Antonio, where the bodies were found Monday. The official spoke to The […]
19 hours ago
A rickshaw puller carries his customers around Tokyo's Asakusa area famous for sightseeing, Wednesd...
Associated Press

As COVID fears ebb, Japan readies for tourists from abroad

TOKYO (AP) — The rickshaw men in Tokyo are adding English-speaking staff, a sure sign Japan is bracing for a return of tourists from abroad. Japan’s border controls to curb the spread of coronavirus infections began gradually loosening earlier this month. That’s great news for Yusuke Otomo, owner of Daikichi, a kimono rental shop in […]
19 hours ago
Associated Press

Man acquitted of murder because of insanity escapes hospital

AUSTIN, Texas (AP) — A man acquitted by reason of insanity of murder in the 2013 stabbing death of his father in Austin has escaped from a state hospital to which he was committed, authorities said Monday. Staff at the North Texas State Hospital in Vernon advised police that Alexander Scott Ervin, 29, was found […]
19 hours ago
Mitzi Rivas, left, hugs her daughter Maya Iribarren during an abortion-rights protest at City Hall ...
Associated Press

Supreme Court’s abortion ruling sets off new court fights

NEW ORLEANS (AP) — Judges temporarily blocked abortion bans Monday in Louisiana and Utah, while a federal court in South Carolina said a law sharply restricting the procedure would take effect there immediately as the battle over whether women may end pregnancies shifted from the nation’s highest court to courthouses around the country. The U.S. […]
19 hours ago

Sponsored Articles

Carla Berg, MHS, Deputy Director, Public Health Services, Arizona Department of Health Services

Vaccines are safe if you are pregnant or breastfeeding

Are you pregnant? Do you have a friend or loved one who’s expecting?
Day & Night Air

Tips to lower your energy bill in the Arizona heat

Does your summer electric bill make you groan? Are you looking for effective ways to reduce your bill?
Christina O’Haver

BE FAST to spot a stroke

Every 40 seconds—that’s how often someone has a stroke in the United States. It’s the fifth leading cause of death among Americans, with someone dying of a stroke every 3.5 minutes.
EPA confirms filters reduce lead in Michigan city’s water