LANSING, Mich. (AP) — 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 to state agencies that they 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.

“This whole-of-government response will proceed with the urgency and haste this threat demands," she wrote in the order, which mandates that residents receive free or low-cost lead-related services, including health care.

Benton Harbor, a predominantly Black and mostly low-income community of 9,700, is in Berrien County, 100 miles (160 kilometers) from Chicago.

For three years, measurements have detected lead levels well above 15 parts per billion, the federal threshold for taking action. Following the Flint water crisis, Michigan put in place the nation's strongest lead-in-water regulations.

Lead can disrupt children’s brain development, causing learning and behavior problems. Adults also can suffer nervous system and kidney damage.

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