CHICAGO (CBS) — Just across the lake from Chicago in Benton Harbor, Michigan, about 90 miles away, residents are comparing the lead count in their water to Flint.
City officials in Benton Harbor acknowledge the water supply has exceeded the U.S. EPA’s “action level” of lead, a 15 parts per billion threshold considered a safety limit for homes, and city officials are urging residents to use only bottled water.READ MORE: Breast Cancer Survivor Urges Women To Talk To Doctors About Their Imaging, After Her Mammogram Didn't Go Far Enough
CBS 2’s Chris Tye reports frustration is boiling over, and the governor’s office is now handing out thousands of cases of water every day.
Some of the water lines connected to the Benton Harbor water filtration plant are 120 years old. Some of the lead counts in town are double what federal authorities flag as concerning.
After three years sounding the alarm, some residents said action is finally being taken.
“The hardest thing is coming down here, and sitting in line for hours,” said Benton Harbor resident Robert Parr.
The lines for bottled water are long.
The lines delivering tap water are ancient.
“I don’t think I should be drinking this,” said Kandice Harbor, of Chatterbox Bar & Grill.
The lines of communication about all of it have been silent in Benton Harbor.
“Three years of being poisoned. Three years of them just watching them say nothing,” said Rev. Edward Pinkney, who heads the Benton Harbor Community Water Council.
It wasn’t until late August the city of Benton Harbor announced its water supply has exceeded the action level for lead.READ MORE: Supply Chain Issues: 'There Really Are Problems Everywhere,' Even For Small Companies
Blown past might be more accurate, with samples ranging from 22 to 32 parts per billion in recent years. Anything over 15 is considered action level by the EPA.
“Benton Harbor is Flint right now,” Pinkney said.
He said residents have been confused by language from city leaders that hasn’t properly captured the seriousness of the issue.
“They watered down the language,” he said. “You’ve got to understand what lead does. It eats up the kidneys. If you go to a dialysis place over here, you’ll see Black people everywhere on dialysis.”
At the Chatterbox Bar & Grill, staff said the city never told them to stop serving tap water.
“We haven’t gotten anything, and we’re in the city,” Harbor said.
So is 84-year old Robert Parr, who waited in the line for over an hour on Wednesday to secure 12 cases of bottled water. He said it will last him through November.
But fixing century-old pipes is certain to take much longer than that.
“Lead is like a silent death. It might not get you today, but you better watch out tomorrow,” Pinkney said.
CBS 2 reached out to the city manager’s office for details on when the pipes will be replaced. They did not get back to us, but literature on the city website says the problem will take a number of years to fix.MORE NEWS: Man Attacked, Robbed At Gunpoint Near Wicker Park
Pinkney said it took two to three years for Flint to make headlines, and now it’s Benton Harbor’s turn.