The Spark

“The emancipation of the working class will only be achieved by the working class itself.” — Karl Marx

Poison Water in Benton Harbor

Oct 11, 2021

In 2018, high amounts of lead were found in the drinking water in Benton Harbor, Michigan. Three years later, the problem still hasn’t been fixed and lead levels are higher than ever. The water in some homes tested with lead as high as 889 parts per billion, almost 60 times higher than the federal safety limit!

Exposure to excessive lead causes multiple health problems, especially for children. Children can suffer permanent damage to their brain and nervous system, and develop learning, behavioral, hearing and speech problems.

What has been the response of politicians and government officials to this human crisis? Little and nothing! The lead is leaching from old, corroded lead water lines. After three years, little has been done to replace them with new water lines. Democratic governor Whitmer proposed to spend 20 million dollars to replace the lead lines, which was not even enough money. The Republican majority state legislature then cut that amount in half. At the federal level, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has the authority to order immediate emergency action, but the EPA says they are only “carefully considering the issues and concerns.” While they consider, people are still being poisoned.

What has happened in Benton Harbor is similar to the water crisis in Flint, Michigan. Like Flint, Benton Harbor is a city of mostly poor and working-class people. Eighty-five percent of Benton Harbor residents are black. Like in Flint, residents and environmental groups have had to protest to get any response from the government. After some protests, the government provided water filters to Benton Harbor residents, but they failed to show people how to properly install the filters. After more protests, the government now said they will help people install the filters.

The state government also just announced they will now provide free bottled water to Benton Harbor residents. The state Health and Human Services director said, “out of an abundance of caution we are recommending that people use bottled water for cooking, drinking and brushing teeth.” How outrageous! Three years after they knew about the problem and did nothing, they are just now recommending an “abundance of caution”.

The problem of lead in drinking water is not confined to Flint and Benton Harbor. It is estimated that there are at least 9 million homes across the country that have old lead water lines. Lead has been found in drinking water in schools, factories, and workplaces. It is a nationwide health crisis.

The response of the federal and state governments to this crisis has been the same as the response in Michigan. Ignore the problem, unless and until they feel enough public pressure. This capitalist government, which gives away trillions of dollars to banks, corporations, and Wall Street investors, hasn’t spent even a tiny fraction of that amount to immediately replace all the lead water lines.

A capitalist system, which consciously makes choices to enrich a wealthy few, while failing to provide clean, safe drinking water for all, is a system which is not in the interests of humanity. If the capitalist system can’t even replace lead water lines, the system itself needs to be replaced.