Some citizens of Benton Harbor, Michigan, want Mayor Marcus Muhammad to be recalled because of what they claim is his mishandling of the city’s water crisis. Tests have proved that the city’s drinking water supply has toxic lead contamination.
Benton Harbor is a city of close to 10,000 people on Lake Michigan, about 200 miles west of Flint, Michigan, which was the site of an earlier drinking water contamination emergency in 2014. In Benton Harbor, 84.72 percent of the population is Black.
The Berrien County Election Commission denied the mayoral recall petition Monday citing inaccurate language, the Herald-Palladium reported.
The petition’s reasoning for Muhammad’s recall stated, “For failing to tell the residents of Benton Harbor that the water was contaminated with lead.”
City documents presented to the commission showed that the city had informed the residents of lead contamination in the water.
The petition’s filer, a resident named Quacy Roberts, acknowledged that the city had said there was lead in the water. However, the petitioner argued that “lead in the water” was an insufficient warning because the city didn’t use the word “contamination.”
“Contamination, in and of itself, is anything that is less than pure. One hundred percent pure is pure. One percent of anything else is contamination,” said Chief Judge Mabel Mayfield, who was presiding over the commission. “And the excerpts … from the body of information Mayor Muhammad presented this morning more than sufficiently indicated that there was less than 100 percent pure water.”
Advisories of lead in the drinking water were sent to Benton Harbor residents in 2018, 2019, and 2020, informing them of home testing above the action level for lead.
Roberts said he would resubmit the petition.
Muhammad, who was elected mayor of Benton Harbor in 2016, addressed the recall effort on Facebook, posting, “I am not concerned about the arrow by day or the arrow by night. My trust is in the Lord. I am going to continue to serve the residents of Benton Harbor and work to resolve this decades-old problem until God says different.”
In a statement to MLive, Muhammad said, “my focus is working with the City Commission … and all agencies to provide safe and clean drinking water for the residents of Benton Harbor. In addition, I will continue to work toward the 18-month timeline to replace every lead service line until the job is completed.”
The city has been dealing with drinking water issues for years. The amount of lead in Benton Harbor’s water has been over the federal standard, The Wall Street Journal reported. Since 2018, Michigan state officials have instructed residents to run their water for five minutes daily to help reduce potential toxins that had been stagnant in lead pipes for extended periods.
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In October, the state of Michigan recommended avoiding tap water in Benton Harbor. The city declared a state of emergency, reminiscent of what happened in Flint, which suffered a drinking water emergency in 2014. In Flint’s case, when the city changed its water source to cut costs in 2014, officials failed to implement corrosion-control measures. There were chemical reactions in miles of old pipes, exposing thousands of residents to lead and bacteria. The contamination caused the deaths of 12 people. Black people represent 54.08 percent of the Flint population, according to 2021 demographics.
In Benton Harbor, old pipes are also a problem. Water running through corroding pipes picks up lead and other contaminants. But lead levels in Benton Harbor have decreased in recent years, according to a state environmental department report.