The latest: Sebring water crisis

sebring ohio water crisis latest
A man covers up a water fountain at McKinley Junior/Senior High School in Sebring Tuesday after more tests showed elevated levels of lead in the water coming out of it.

SEBRING, Ohio (WKBN) – The latest info from Sebring, where on Thursday, Jan. 21, officials announced that tests showed elevated levels of lead in the village’s water supply. For a complete rundown of WKBN’s triple-team coverage from Sebring, check out our special section.

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Wednesday, Jan. 27

4:30 p.m.

Rep. John Boccieri sends a letter to the Ohio EPA, demanding answers as to why the agency waited several months before issuing the Notice of Violation to Sebring.

The Ohio EPA responded that its focus is on the investigation.

11:52 a.m.

Due to changes made by the Ohio Health Department, any reading of lead in a school over 5 parts per billion are not acceptable. The previous guideline was 15 parts per billion.

The change has prompted officials at Sebring schools to close down 22 drinking fountains. Previously, they had only marked two fountains to be to shut down. Also, one faucet in a bathroom has been bagged and shut off.

The need for more bottled water at the school is causing concern for the schools and the expense that the water issue is causing the district.

In addition, more water bottles to be used for residential testing will be delivered between 4 p.m. and 6 p.m. Wednesday.

11:10 a.m.

Officials will be passing out water-testing kits in Sebring Wednesday for those who are concerned that they may have lead in their water.

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Tuesday, Jan. 26

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3:54 p.m.

The Mahoning County Board of Health will offer free lead testing will be next Wednesday, February 3, in Goshen Township.

If you want to set up an appointment, you can call 330-270-2855, ext. 125 to get specific details.

The board was planning to put on a clinic anyway, but plans to offer lead testing by appointment only on that day. If there is enough interest, the board may consider holding another open screening clinic.

Appointments are for children 6 years old and under and pregnant and lactating mothers who are served by Sebring Water Department.
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2:51 p.m.

Heidi Griesmer of the Ohio EPA confirmed that Sebring Water Superintendent Jim Bates oversees a number of water plants in Ohio, and the EPA has ordered him to stop overseeing any of them.

The EPA has also opened a criminal investigation against Bates.

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12:44 p.m.

West Branch Local Schools issued a press release stating that they would be open Wednesday.

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10:27 a.m.

The Ohio EPA sent a press release detailing the latest round of water testing, stating that 121 of 123 water samples taken at locations across the Sebring School District are below the federal government’s allowable lead levels.

Second-round testing results

The release states that two locations at McKinley Junior/Senior High School had lead levels above the federal allowable limit. Those locations were at water fountains in the building, not the water that was coming into the building, according to the release.

No locations at West Branch Middle School had any detection of lead, and 15 locations at BL Elementary School had levels of lead below the allowable limit.

Some older drinking water fountains, some of which have been recalled, have been shown to be problematic due to internal parts containing lead, the release stated. The Ohio EPA says it has provided this information to the Mahoning County director of public health and the superintendent of schools so they can determine when schools will open and take any precautionary measures that may be appropriate.

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9:30 a.m.

Sebring Local Schools Superintendent Toni Viscounte said she will have a conference call with the EPA to discuss the results of water quality tests in the city.

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Monday, Jan. 25

7 p.m.

Sebring Village Council meets to discuss residents’ concerns regarding the water tests. The meeting was contentious at times, as those in attendance accused the village of waiting too long to act.

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5:19 p.m.

Sebring Local Schools will not have class Tuesday, according to Superintendent Toni Viscounte.

The results of tests on the school district’s water will not be released until somewhere between 5 a.m. and 6 a.m., which will not allow the district enough time if they need to close off some of their water supply, according to Viscounte.

West Branch Schools’ high school, middle school and preschool were also closed.
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3:10 p.m.
Michele Lepore-Hagan sent two letters to government officials Monday afternoon regarding the Sebring water crisis. One of them, sent to the Ohio EPA, asked the state to spell out the process it used to test water for lead levels. The other is a letter asking the Mahoning Valley Sanitary District to increase how often it tests drinking water for lead.

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1:30 p.m.

The Mahoning County Emergency Management Association announced Monday that it would set up a temporary water recycling site for Sebring due to all the water bottles being distributed.

More than 100 pallets of bottled water have been distributed.

Recycling drop sites:

-Temporary Site: Sebring Fire Station, 235 E. Ohio Ave. Sebring, OH 44672

-Beloit Site: 13760 Main Street, Beloit, OH 44609

Smith Twp Site: 846 N. Johnson Road, Sebring, OH 44672

The water distribution center will continue operations at the Sebring Community Center at 305 W. Texas Ave. from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. every day.

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Timeline of events:

  • September 25, 2015 – According to an email obtained by WKBN, an EPA official expressed concern to Sebring Water Superintendent Jim Bates on this date over how Bates was doing water testing.
  • October 10 – The Environmental Protection Agency found lead levels in Sebring water that were high enough to trigger a government response, according to a letter sent by Ohio Senator Joe Schiavoni and Representative John Boccieri
  • Dec. 3 – The EPA reportedly sent a letter to Sebring Village Manager Richard Giroux on this date stating that the public should have already received a notice about the water.
  • Dec. 22 – According to a document received by WKBN (page two), Sebring Water Superintendent James Bates signed a document on this date stating that a warning had been issued to everyone in Sebring whose water was tested, regarding elevated lead levels.
  • Jan. 21, 2016- Sebring issued a drinking water advisory to its customers, recommending that children and pregnant women drink bottled water, due to elevated lead levels. On the same day, the Ohio EPA sent a letter to Giroux, accusing the village of not notifying customers on time.
  • Jan. 24- An email from Giroux to WKBN stated that Sebring Schools tested negative for lead and copper, a statement contradicted by the Ohio EPA in a release the same day.
  • Jan. 25 – The Ohio EPA revokes the license for Bates and temporarily appoints Kris Harshman to run the village’s water plant.
  • Jan. 25 – Sebring Solicitor Theresa Tolson issues a release stating that the village’s water plant is not in violation for lead or copper and that village officials will not issue further press releases until questions surrounding the issues are more fully understood. Giroux issues a release stating that Bates has been placed on administrative leave.
  • Jan. 26 – The Ohio EPA released another round of test results, showing that two locations at area school districts, out of 123 tested, showed levels of lead above the federal government’s guidelines.

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