Benton Harbor water bottle distribution continues amid lead crisis

NOW: Benton Harbor water bottle distribution continues amid lead crisis

BENTON HARBOR, Mi. -- Volunteers continue to distribute cases of water in Benton Harbor, which is still in the midst of a lead crisis.

City residents lined up once again to get their free cases of bottled water, one week after they were told to stop drinking water from their taps because of elevated lead levels.

“If they don’t hurry up and take care of what’s going on with the filtration and the plant and everything, I can see it going on for a while,” said Laverne Williams, who came out to get water from the distribution center at God's House of Faith on Pipestone.

Cars waited in line for hours, stretching down High Street. Volunteers worried they couldn't keep up with the demand.

Volunteer Carolina Gray said "From the looks of it, with how they’re lined up now, I don’t know, we’ll probably run out again.”

The volunteers started handing out the water cases a full half hour before they were supposed to start because of the high number of people waiting. They worked swiftly, loading two cases of water per person into each car- working so diligently, they made quick work of their task, clearing the line of cars in about forty-five minutes. 

But their work was far from over- cars still rolled in to get their water. 

At 3:30p- two hours after they had started- the last cases of water had been handed out.

Some are saying that distributing bottles of water like this simply isn't enough.

“This is a state of emergency," said Frances Davis, another volunteer and resident of Benton Harbor. 'I would like to be relocated into a safer place with clean water until they resolve this- this is what I want for myself and my family.”

“Nobody. Nobody should be able to be drinking this water,” said Rev. Edward Pinkney, the President and CEO of Benton Harbor's Community Water Council. 

A plan was announced to replace the lead pipes in the city, but residents are concerned because this does not include the pipes inside their homes. 

“If you say you’re gonna fix the pipes, I mean, you got to go under people’s houses and fix those pipes," said Gray. "Because, if you [don't] fix those, then you still got the same lead pipes under people’s houses, and to me, that defeats the issue.”

And they want the message to Benton Harbor residents to be clear: do not drink the tap water. 

“No city in this country should have to go through what Benton Harbor went through for three years," said Rev. Pinkney. "And the simplest thing is to just tell the people that the water is unsafe. It’s so simple, you see. What’s so hard about telling people that it’s unsafe? And you know it had been this way for three years. So now is the time that we take that move.”

Now, there is some good news: for families that use WIC- the benefits have been expanded to include ready-made baby formula so that families won't have to use the bottled water they receive from distribution sites to make formula. 

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