The ‘new lead,’ PFAS contamination, in Benton Harbor

Rev. Edward Pinkney speaks at a protest in Detroit over water shutoffs in 2016. Rev. Pinkney is available to speak. Call Speakers for a New America at 800-691-6888.


BENTON HARBOR, MI —I want to wrestle with you. I want to cry in public. I want to maybe cry out loud. I want to holler out loud. I want to shout out loud and even suggest that America needs a revolution. That is right. A real revolution. A real movement. A national call for a revolution. Where the people take control. Where the people will be housed, fed, clothed and have clean water, without toxins, without lead and without PFAS.

In 2015, lead and copper compliance was tested in Benton Harbor by the city. It was not an honest test. It looked good because the Whirlpool Corporation was trying to sell homes around the Jack Nicklaus Signature Golf Course. The City wanted to please Whirlpool. Not so in 2018 when my testing results (from the University of Michigan Biological Laboratory) found water in multiple homes above the federal compliance standard of 15ppb of lead, even as high as 120 ppb in several homes. The Black Autonomy Network Community Organization gave out water filters to over 50 homes. One school tested as high as 640 ppb, over 40 times above the federal regulation.

In addition, Jill Ryan of Fresh Water Future and I have had several conversations about the ‘new lead’ (PFAS). If you followed the drinking water crisis in Flint, Michigan and elsewhere, this story will certainly ring a bell. But this time the toxin in question from the testing results of Benton Harbor water is not only lead, but a group of chemicals known as PFAS (poly- and perflurinated alkyl substances.) PFAS are plentiful in our homes and workplaces. They are used to make non-stick cookware, stain-resistant carpeting, food packaging, fire retardants and more. These chemicals are ubiquitous in the environment.

There are three main ways people are exposed to PFAS: 1) by food: chemicals used in food packaging and cookware getting in food we eat. 2) by air: chemicals applied to furniture and clothing getting into the dust and air we breathe. 3) by water: chemicals used in fire-fighting or by industries getting toxins into the water we drink.

The corporations that produce these chemicals are poisoning the water.

The struggle over the water crisis holds lessons for Benton Harbor and the people of America. The fight is a war over whether people will have clean non-toxic water or live under the heel of open corporate rule. We must confront the corporations and continue to speak truth to power. Never worry about who will be offended; that should be the last thing on your mind if you are speaking truth. Worry about who will be misled or destroyed if you do not speak truth to power.

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