City plagued by lead in drinking water sees improvement, testing shows

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For the first time since 2018, Benton Harbor reports decreasing lead levels.

After seeing elevated levels of lead in its drinking water for three years, the city of Benton Harbor, Michigan, a majority Black community, is finally seeing decreasing numbers, according to a recent report.

The six-month sample results released Wednesday showed that for the first time since 2018, Benton Harbor reports lead levels within federal limits.

“This is encouraging news, an indication that corrosion control treatment is taking hold and reducing the amount of lead getting into the water,” Eric Oswald, director of Michigan’s Drinking Water and Environmental Health Division,said in a release, adding that the news “does not lesson the urgency” to reduce lead exposure in the city.

Residents of Benton Harbor have been forced to use bottled water provided by the state for years due to lead contamination. The lead contamination issues in Benton Harbor echo similar water crises in poorer, majority nonwhite cities.

Environmental Protection Agency data shows that 1 in 6 majority nonwhite ZIP codes has at least one water district with excessive lead contamination, compared to 1 in 8 majority white ZIP codes, according to ABC News analysis of the data in October.

From the same data, 1 in 4 of America’s poorest ZIP codes, where median household income is less than $35,000, has at least one water district with excessive lead contamination.

Over 90% of residents in Benton Harbor are nonwhite and the median household income is only $21,916, according to 2019 Census data.

In early September, a coalition of environmental and community organizations demanded the removal of lead service lines in Benton Harbor. Soon after, Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer announced a commitment to remove all of the lead service lines within 18 months, a project that will cost approximately $30 million.

Construction began in November to replace the city’s service lines that had been poisoning the water supply for years.

Despite decreased levels of lead, state and city officials emphasized that they are not changing guidance and urged residents to continue to use bottled water for cooking, drinking and brushing teeth.

ABC News’ Catherine Thorbecke, Briana Stewart and Will McDuffie contributed to this report.