Frequently Asked questions
What is lead?
Lead is a metal that was commonly used in:
- Plumbing pipes and fixtures
- Homes built before 1978 are more likely to have lead-based paint
- Gasoline (banned in 1995)
How can I be exposed to lead?
Most exposure to lead is from paint dust, paint chips, and soil contaminated with lead. Lead can also get into your body by drinking or cooking with water containing lead. Young children’s bodies absorb lead more easily than adults, and lead can be passed from a mother to her unborn child. For these reasons, lead in drinking water can be a source of exposure for pregnant women, young children, and infants that are fed powdered formula.
Lead is not absorbed through the skin. Bathing or showering in water containing lead is okay.
How does lead get into the water supply?
Lead can enter drinking water when service pipes or plumbing inside a home contain lead corrode, or break down. Lead from these pipes, faucets, or fixtures can get into the water, especially hot water.
A small number of homes in Benton Harbor were found to have lead levels above the action level. An action level (water lead content > 15 ppb) is the amount of lead that requires an action to reduce lead in drinking water. More testing is underway to learn where the lead is coming from.
How can I prevent being exposed to lead in my water?
While the additional testing is underway, flushing for at least 5 minutes can be an effective way to limit your exposure to lead from your water. You can flush your pipes by running your faucets, taking a shower, running a load of laundry, or doing a load of dishes for at least 5 minutes. After flushing, run the water from your faucet until cold before drinking or cooking with the water.
You can also use a water filter certified to reduce lead in the water (NSF 53 filters are certified to remove lead from water). A filter can be provided to you by the Berrien County Health Department. Water filter distribution sites will be available at a number of City locations beginning the week of February 4th. More information will be provided for locations and times in the next week. It is important to replace the filter’s cartridge as recommended by the manufacturer.
What should I do if I’m concerned about lead in my drinking water?
There are simple steps you can take to reduce your risk of exposure to lead in drinking water:
- Use a water filter certified to reduce lead in the water (NSF 53 filters are certified to remove lead from water). A filter can be provided to you by the Berrien County Health Department. Water filter distribution sites will be available at a number of City locations beginning the week of February 4th. More information will be provided for locations and times in the next week. It is important to replace the filter’s cartridge as recommended by the manufacturer.
- If you do not have a filter and have not used your water for 6 hours or more, flush your pipes to reduce the amount of lead in your drinking water. You can flush your pipes by running your faucets, taking a shower, running a load of laundry, or doing a load of dishes for at least 5 minutes. After flushing, run the water from your faucet until cold before drinking or cooking with the water.
- After flushing your pipes, you can use cold water from your faucet for drinking, cooking, and for rinsing fruits and vegetables. Do not use hot tap water for these activities.
- Use bottled or filtered water for making powdered baby formula. You can also use Ready to Feed (RTF) formula. If you are a WIC client, you can call the Benton Harbor WIC Clinic at (269) 926-7121.
- Do not heat or boil your water to remove lead. Hot water will increase the amount of lead in the water.
- You can use cold water from your faucet for brushing your teeth.
- You can shower or bathe with the water.
- Clean your faucets’ aerators or screens at least every 6 months. For more information on how to clean your aerator, see the “Cleaning Your Aerators” fact sheet below.
Why does flushing the water before drinking make it safe?
Lead can enter drinking water when it comes in contact with pipes or plumbing fixtures that have lead service lines or internal plumbing made with lead. The more time water has been sitting in your home’s pipes, the more lead it may contain. The most important thing you can do is run your water for at least 5 minutes before you drink, cook, or use your water washing fruits and/or vegetables.
What are some of the health problems lead can cause?
Lead in drinking water can enter your blood and build up in the body over time. Children under 6 years old are most at risk of harm to their health. If you are pregnant, lead can harm your unborn baby. Adults are less likely than children to be harmed by lead in water.
Lead exposure in babies and young children can cause serious health problems. Some of the health problems may never go away. Lead in a child’s body can:
- Slow down growth and development
- Damage hearing and speech
- Make it hard to pay attention and learn
Unborn babies build bone from calcium found in their mother’s bones. When calcium is relead from the mother’s bones to her unborn baby, lead stored in her bones is released too. Lead can also cross the placenta. Lead can:
- Reduced growth of their unborn baby including the brain, kidneys, and nervous system
- Cause premature birth
- Cause a miscarriage
Good nutrition is one way to protect your family from lead. Include calcium, iron, and vitamin C in your family’s diet. This may help keep lead from being absorbed in the body.
Talk with your doctor if you have concerns about exposure to lead from drinking water or other sources. Your doctor may choose to order a lead blood test. A lead blood test can tell you how much lead may be in your blood.
Where can I get my child’s blood tested for lead?
The Berrien County Health Department is offering lead blood testing at their Benton Harbor location at 2149 E. Napier Ave. You can also talk to your family doctor if you’re concerned that your child has been exposed to lead or is at risk of lead exposure.
Other community locations for blood lead testing include:
- InterCare – Benton Harbor (800 M-139) will provide blood lead testing for their patients. InterCare’s number (269) 927-5400.
- Spectrum Health Lakeland Center for Outpatient Services (3900 Hollywood Road, St. Joseph) will provide blood lead testing for residents of Benton Harbor on a walk-in basis.
What does an "elevated blood lead level" mean?
In Michigan, a blood lead level (BLL) of five (5) micrograms per deciliter (µg/dL) or higher is considered elevated, or high. Most people who have an elevated blood lead level do not look or act sick. A blood lead test is the only way to determine a blood lead level. Talk with your doctor or the Berrien County Health Department about getting a lead test for your child if:
- You believe your child have been exposed to lead
- your child are at risk of lead exposure
Should I have my child tested for lead?
Children under the age of 6 are at the highest risk for elevated blood lead levels. Lead can harm a child's growth, behavior, and ability to learn. Lead exposure happens when children come in contact with lead, generally from lead-based paint, or possibly from lead plumbing supplying drinking water. A simple blood test can determine the level of lead in your child's blood. Contact your family doctor or the Berrien County Health Department to ask about getting a lead test for your child if you believe they may have been at risk of lead exposure.
What does the data show about children with elevated blood lead levels?
The Berrien County Health Department keeps track of elevated blood lead levels in at-risk children under the age of 6 in all Berrien County communities. Recent data has shown a decrease in elevated blood lead levels for children in Berrien County as well as those in the Benton Harbor zip code 49022.
|Percentage of At-Risk Children Under Age 6 With Elevated Blood Lead Levels|
(above 5 μg/dL)
|49022 Zip Code||8.0%||8.3%||5.2%||4.0%||3.4%||4.4%||3.0%|
Where can I go to get my water tested?
The City of Benton Harbor will continue to provide water testing kits for residents that would like to test their water for lead. If you are a Benton Harbor City water customer, you can contact the city by calling 269-927-8400 ext.1143.
Will it cost me anything to get my water tested for lead?
The water test is free for Benton Harbor City water customers. There will be no cost for water testing for Benton Harbor residents.
How was lead in the water discovered?
Every three years, the City of Benton Harbor conducts regular testing of tap water in the City’s homes for lead and copper as required by the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality (MDEQ) and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). In the summer of 2018, the City collected water samples from thirty homes. Eight of those homes were above the Action Level of 15 ppb for lead. An action level is the amount of lead that requires an action to reduce lead in drinking water. Additional testing has been done since October 2018. A total of 335 homes have been tested. Test results showed 54 of these homes had lead results above the Action Level.
What is being done to solve this problem?
The City of Benton Harbor issued a Public Advisory in October 2018 for all its water customers to notify them of the lead exceedance. This included further action including additional investigation into the source of the lead, and educational outreach to customers. Additional water testing was recently conducted by the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services and will be ongoing as more results are gathered. Based on these preliminary results, the recommended flushing time for water has been increased to 5 minutes.
The homes that tested above the Action Level of 15ppb for lead will receive follow-up and additional testing from MDHHS and water filters from the Berrien County Health Department. This work is currently in progress.
Additionally, the Berrien County Health Department will be making water filters available for any city resident who would like to have one. Information about distribution sites will be shared in the next week with initial distribution happening the week of February 4th.
What else is the Berrien County Health Department doing?
The Berrien County Health Department monitors elevated blood lead levels in at-risk children around Berrien County. Our public health nurses provide individualized case management, education, and resources for families who have children with elevated blood lead levels to help them identify lead exposure risks and create a healthy home.
What is a lead service line?
A service line connects the water main in the street to the plumbing in your house. In Benton Harbor homes, especially those built before to 1988, the service lines may contain lead. The City of Benton Harbor owns and maintains service lines starting at the water main located in the street to the customer’s stop box (water valve near the sidewalk). Customers own the service lines from the stop box to their home.
How do I know if I have a lead service line going to my house?
You can 1) hire a licensed plumber to inspect the plumbing and do a plumbing inspection on your home; or 2) look at the plumbing in your basement yourself and look for things like pipe color, copper-colored or grey. Copper plumbing is reddish in color. Grey pipe is likely galvanized pipe and contains lead. A magnet will stick to galvanized pipe. If a magnet does not stick to gray pipe, the pipe is likely not galvanized.
Where can I go to find more information?
Water Service Line Questions: City of Benton Harbor
Getting Water Tested: City of Benton Harbor
Getting a Water Filter: Berrien County Health Department
Getting a Lead Test for a Child: Berrien County Health Department
Safe Drinking Water Act Questions: MDEQ
For questions about the water or water testing:
City of Benton Harbor
Email: [email protected]
Phone: 269-927-8400 ext.1143
Michigan Department of Environmental Quality
For questions about health:
Berrien County Health Department
Public Health Hotline: 1-800-815-5485 (available beginning Monday, January 28th)
Main Number: 269-926-7121
Michigan Department of Health and Human Services
Additional Links and Resources