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Jackson Water Safe To Drink, Officials Tell Federal Judge

Ted Henefin listens to Mayor Chokwe A Lumumba speak
Jackson’s “water is safe” to drink and “meets the standards of the Safe Drinking Water Act,” Interim Third Party Manager Ted Henifin, left, told a federal judge in Jackson on June 21, 2023. He expressed concerns that Mayor Chokwe A. Lumumba, right, may have misled residents into thinking the water was not safe. The mayor disagreed with his characterization, but said he “believes our water is safe.” The two men are seen here during a November 2022 press conference. File photo by Nick Judin

Jackson’s water is safe to drink “because it meets the standards of the Safe Drinking Water Act,” Ted Henifin, the federally appointed interim third-party manager who is in charge of overseeing the Mississippi capital city’s water system, told a federal judge on Wednesday.

In an extended inquiry meant for the court record, U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Mississippi Judge Henry T. Wingate peppered Henifin with questions about the safety of Jackson’s water for the general public and particularly for vulnerable adults and children.

In every response, Henifin strongly affirmed the safety of Jackson’s water, noting that since the City found excessive levels of lead in its water in late 2015, numerous consecutive tests have all fallen within the range deemed acceptable by the federal Safe Drinking Water Act.

Wingate called the hearing earlier this week, citing concerns about whether Mayor Chokwe A. Lumumba’s remarks in a June 14 press conference “comport with the progress that has been made on water quality by the efforts of the Interim Third Party Manager, Ted Henifin,” the docket announcing the hearing said.

After the June 14 press conference, the Clarion-Ledger reported that Lumumba “sJacaid the city’s water is still ‘several months away’ until residents can be fully confident in its safety.” At the event, the mayor announced free water filters for pregnant people and children younger than five, but “clarified that ‘it hasn’t been demonstrated that our water is, in fact, dangerous,’” the newspaper reported. Lumumba said the filters were for use while the city works to implement new corrosion controls and that he was following Mississippi Department of Health guidelines.

In court on Tuesday, Henifin told the judge that “there is no health risk drinking the water that I’m aware of” and that officials need “to be careful with messaging about the water.” Wingate agreed, expressing concerns that city officials could be misleading residents into thinking the water was unsafe to drink, as it was during last year’s summer water crisis.

Henifin rejected remarks by a doctor present at the press event who warned that unfiltered water could transmit diseases to pregnant mothers or children. He questioned the need for ongoing MSDH guidance, which has encouraged the use of water filters for the same group.

The mayor did not rescind his remarks, however, but agreed with Henifin’s central point: “Chokwe Lumumba believes our water is safe,” Lumumba said.

Earlier this month, President Joe Biden announced that Jackson had received the first $115 million investment for repairs to its water system out of a $600 million package Congress approved in December 2022.

Nick Judin contributed to this report.

Read Nick Judin’s December 2022 interview with Ted Henifin.

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