SEBRING, Ohio (WKBN) – The Ohio Environmental Protection Agency is taking steps to revoke the water treatment operator license of Sebring Water Superintendent James Bates, according to a Sunday evening press release.
The release also says that the agency has reason to suspect that Bates falsified reports, and it is has opened a criminal investigation against him. The Ohio EPA has requested assistance from the U.S. EPA’s Criminal Investigation Division.
The agency claims that Bates “is not properly performing his duties in a manner that is protective of public health.”
First News contacted Bates via telephone, who was unaware of the press release. He didn’t want to comment at this time.
Village Manager Rick Giroux was also called, but he didn’t answer.
Sebring failed to properly notify customers and provide timely, accurate information, according to the release. Ohio EPA director Craig Butler issued a notice of violation to the village on January 21, requiring that customers be notified immediately.
“The games the Village of Sebring was playing by giving us incomplete data time and time again, and not submitting the required documents, made it difficult for our field office to determine whether or not they had notified their customers,” said Heidi Griesmer, an Ohio EPA representative.
Water samples were taken from 28 homes. Three of those remain above the federal allowable level, according to the release.
The drinking water advisory cannot be lifted until the EPA receives two rounds of successful sampling events in consecutive six-month periods.
The EPA says the Village is legally obligated to develop a plan to prevent lead from leeching into the water from residential piping, and to communicate to the public regularly about any risks and what their homes’ test results are. Sebring will have to provide individual tests upon request by residents, as well.
The release says that the Village is also required to continue testing the water, provide bottled water and filtration systems, and work with the county to provide health screenings.
The Ohio EPA says it will provide up to $25,000 to assist the village in providing the filtration systems.
The release says that out of 15 water samples from the schools, only one water fountain from McKinley Junior and Senior High School had a higher than allowable level of lead.
State Senator Joe Schiavoni and Representative John Boccieri say the people of Sebring should be the main focus because their health is important.
Schiavoni says those responsible need to be held accountable for their actions.
“The Ohio EPA needs to worry about helping people today, rather than pointing fingers on blame…Why did they pick Friday at 10:00 to have a conference call?”
Boccieri also points out communication is few and far between.
“In a country as great as ours, is it remarkable we’re even having this discussion? In the 21st century? That we have great need in this nation and we have a lack of response from federal level to the state to make sure we have appropriate services for our people,” Boccieri said.
Additional tests will be conducted Sunday night at McKinley Junior and Senior High and BL Elementary Schools. The superintendent has cancelled classes for Monday.
West Branch Middle and High Schools, along with the preschool, are also closed Monday because their water is supplied by Sebring. The elementary schools will remain open because they have well water.
The release also states that separate tests confirm Sebring’s water treatment plant has no detectable lead.