State, local officials present conflicting accounts of Sebring water crisis

A blood screening clinic is held in Sebring to test for lead.

SEBRING, Ohio (WKBN) – As Valley lawmakers call on the head of the Ohio EPA to start answering questions about the lead contamination issues in Sebring, a spokeswoman for the agency claims the issue came to a head only recently.

“We issued a notice of violation last week, once the director found out about the situation,” Ohio EPA Spokeswoman Heidi Griesmer said.

But that would be months after tests were taken late last summer, and roughly six weeks after officials in the village claim they were first made aware of the problems. While a statement issued Sunday evening accused local authorities of playing what was called a “cat and mouse game” over test results, Griesmer admits there were internal problems as well.

“We also recognize our district office was probably too patient with the village as they were working with them to get the proper notification out,” Griesmer said.

State Representative John Boccieri has been critical of the way the EPA has handled the contamination problems, including the Sunday night release of information accusing now-suspended Water Plant Manager Jim Bates of falsifying records.

“All the facts have not come out, so it’s very premature to be pointing fingers and accusing and making blame right now,” Boccieri said.

While EPA officials accuse village leaders of playing games, Boccieri said he’s getting a very different account of what happened from local authorities.

“Local officials told us they had been in contact with the EPA, and how and what to do and what actions and steps they are to take,” Boccieri said.

Boccieri said the EPA’s immediate priority needs to be ensuring residents have a safe water supply. Ohio EPA Director Craig Butler could come to come to town before the end of the week.

Monday, WKBN broke the news about the EPA moving to suspend the license of Sebring’s water superintendent.

We also learned that weekend blood tests suggested that five people had levels of lead in their system that were too high, although the state doesn’t know yet if that is because of lead being in the village’s water.

We took our own samples, and hope to bring you those results later this week.

We’ve requested public records of any communication between the State EPA and the Village dating back to last fall when this all started.

27 First News Reporter Gerry Ricciutti has been in close contact with State Senator Joe Schiavoni and State Representative John Bocceri since the news of the lead contamination broke.

Both say they don’t want politics to get in the way of sorting out this situation, and getting help for the people of Sebring.

“Rather than starting to point the blame on the locals, saying that we need to change federal code, talking about criminal investigations, it just seems weird that they’re just gonna come out tonight with all of their allegations, with all of their pointing fingers and putting blame on everybody else,” Schiavoni said.

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