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Meters beneath its vibrant surface, Church Lake is a dead zone — a chemical soup of phosphorus and road salt has left the water toxic and oxygen-deprived.
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The Great Lakes’ warming winters are well-known through Michigan, in part because declining ice cover is visible from the surface.
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Road salt is threatening the Great Lakes’ famous fresh waters and creating even bigger problems for the inland rivers, lakes and aquifers – not to mention your car’s undercarriage.
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The quandary in Benton Harbor is an extreme example of a widespread problem in many Michigan cities, where shrinking populations and wealth have left many local governments unable to collect enough ratepayer revenue to cover long-term water system costs.
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Anyone following recent national and international news about the Enbridge Line 5 pipeline could be forgiven for believing the pipeline might shutter any day now, with major implications for winter fuel prices.
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Benton Harbor residents are suing the city and state of Michigan, alleging that government leaders violated their constitutional rights with their response to the city’s three-years-long water crisis.
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The Michigan Department of Environment, Great Lakes and Energy had ordered Benton Harbor to fix water system problems, including several that predated the lead contamination crises. But the city, lacking enough money or staff to quickly comply, had sought extension after extension.
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Michigan regulators on Wednesday admitted that poor communications by the state may have kept some Benton Harbor residents from being aware of the scope of the lead problem within the municipal water system.
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Overall, the percentage of Michigan children with elevated blood lead levels has been falling for more than two decades, from nearly a third of children tested in 2000 to just 2.5 percent of children tested in 2020. But those statewide gains can be deceptively reassuring.
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Benton Harbor is likely just the beginning. Since the southwest Michigan community’s prolonged lead-in-water crisis began making national headlines this fall, residents of Hamtramck, Wayne and Manchester have all learned that their water, too, exceeded government lead standards.