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Lt. Gov. Garlin Gilchrist II gathers with city and state officials to discuss the response plan to deal with lead pipes and water quality for residents in Benton Harbor during a news conference Thursday at the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services Berrien County Office in Benton Harbor.

LANSING — Gov. Gretchen Whitmer on Thursday ordered a “whole-of-government” response to elevated levels of lead in Benton Harbor’s water and vowed to accelerate the replacement of the southwestern Michigan community’s lead pipes.

Her directive that state agencies ensure residents have safe tap water came about a week after her administration, amid criticism of state and local officials’ handling of the response, urged people to use only bottled water for cooking and drinking. The Democratic governor on Thursday also committed to replace lead pipes in 18 months, accelerating what had been a five-year timeline announced more than a month ago.

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