The Office of the EPA Inspector General said it would investigate the agency’s response to the long-running water crisis due to the city’s rising lead levels in drinking water.
The audit, announced Friday, stems from complaints from local water activists that the indifference of local, state and federal officials has contributed to the fact that lead problems in Benton Harbor have dragged on for years.
У February 18 letterMichael Davis, director of the EPA’s Audit Office, ordered agency officials to hand over staff training documents and any complaints they received regarding Benton Harbor.
The auditors want to know if the EPA was implementing its “Policy to Increase Critical Public Health Problems” after lead problems became apparent in a low-income city in southwestern Michigan. This politicscreated in response to the Flint water crisis, calls on the EPA to “boost” its response to significant threats to public health, especially if other authorities do not address the issue properly.
“The expected benefits of this audit are to determine whether the EPA can improve the rate at which health care is provided to communities that face unavoidable and significant health risks,” Davis wrote.
In a statement, an EPA spokesman said the agency’s officials were “looking forward” to the guard’s inspection and intend to cooperate fully.
“No family should worry about running water from their tap, and the Benton Harbor community is no exception,” agency spokesman Taylor Gillespie said Monday. “The EPA is committed to ensuring everyone has access to clean drinking water and fighting lead in drinking water.”
Public health authorities began providing residents with water filters shortly after routine testing first revealed elevated lead levels in late 2018. The crisis lasted three years, mostly not covered until last summer, when activists did not turn to the EPA for emergency intervention.
The petition followed a previously fruitless effort to get the EPA’s attention, said Cindy Roper, Michigan’s senior attorney at the Natural Resources Protection Council.
When activists complained to the EPA that government officials did not take the crisis seriously, Roper said, federal regulators continued to “just follow what was clearly an inadequate response from the state.”
Within weeks of the petition this had changed. Government officials have begun urging Benton Harbor residents drink only bottled waterThe EPA has launched an investigation into the safety of the city’s water supply, and lawmakers have provided millions of dollars to remove lead pipes from underground.
Water activists claim that all these efforts could and should have happened earlier. They said they hope that, pointing to any shortcomings in the EPA’s response to Benton Harbor, the inspector general’s report will lead to a faster response to future water crises.
“Perhaps in the next community where this problem arises, they will be more proactive and will not wait three years for anything to be done,” said Rev. Edward Pinkney, a local activist who heads the Benton Harbor Water Council.
While the inspector general begins the review, EPA officials are waiting for the results of the study to test the effectiveness of filters used to remove lead from Benton Harbor residents ’tap water. EPA officials say the research should be completed by the end of the month.