YSU professor: Improvements to water plant could lead to high lead

WKBN spoke to Dr. Colleen McClean, assistant professor of Geological and Environmental Sciences at Youngstown State University, about how high levels of lead were found in Sebring water.

SEBRING, Ohio (WKBN) – WKBN First News wanted to dig deeper into how elevated lead levels showed up in the water in Sebring.

The village spent millions to improve its water plant after finding contaminants in its water years ago, so finding lead surprised many. WKBN went to the experts to find out why improving water quality might actually be bad for pipes.

Normal tap water contains a variety of substances, such as calcium magnesium, chlorides and lots of dissolved solids. While those are perfectly safe to consume, over the years, calcium deposits may build up in pipes. Changes to the water plant will change the water, according Dr. Colleen McClean, assistant professor of Geological and Environmental Sciences at Youngstown State University.

“Any change in the constituents of the water will change then the chemistry of the water coming out at your tap,” she said.

Hard water leaves behind calcium scaling. It chokes pipes, but it also forms a protective layer against metal.

The water in Sebring became more acidic after the new water plant went online.

“That eats away at the scaling that’s acting as a protectant, then you could leach some of the metal,” McClean said.

Scientists use machines to test for lead. These tests take about an hour and cost around $25 dollars.

At this time, it is unclear why lead tests in Sebring took five months to process. The tests were conducted in late August and September, according to Sebring Water Superintendent Jim Bates.

According to a letter sent to the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency Friday, two Ohio lawmakers are saying the Ohio EPA knew that there were elevated levels of lead in the water in Sebring and Beloit back in October, but didn’t notify the public until Thursday.

In an email Friday night, an Ohio EPA spokeswoman said village officials knew about the results for some time, but the spokesperson did not specify when the results were available. A drinking water advisory alert on the EPA’s website shows that the advisory has been in effect since December 3.

The health department says if you do find lead in your home, don’t panic. You can take some steps to protect yourself and your family.  Lead doesn’t affect everyone the same way.

“Those at risk are pregnant women, young children and infants,” said Chris Cunningham, director of nursing at the Mahoning County Board of Health.

The health department says these people should use bottled water and not from the tap. A good diet also helps flush lead out of the body.

“Foods rich in Vitamin C, citrus. It would include iron, red meat, peanut butter, cereal, and then also foods in calcium, like yogurt,” Cunningham said.

Cunningham adds that signs of lead poisoning in children may be vomiting, a decrease in appetite and inability to focus as they once had.

The Mahoning County Board of Health encourages those with questions or concerns to speak with their doctors.

A blood lead screening clinic for pregnant and breastfeeding women and children is also being held on Sunday.

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