SEBRING, Ohio (WKBN) – State records show that Sebring Water Superintendent James Bates, who is under scrutiny over high lead levels found in samples taken from the village, violated numerous state rules regarding plant operations in past years.
Ohio EPA documents show that in 2009 environmental regulators told Bates that he had been operating in a manner that endangered public health.
WKBN First News Anchor Dan Martin talked with Bates in 2009 about those violations. Environmental regulators told the village its water had levels of trihalomethanes and haloacetic acids above drinking water standards.
At the time, Bates said chlorine added to the water creates trihalomethanes or haloacetic acids. He said the contaminants were a result of the chlorine reacting with organics, such as dead leaves and twigs in the water supply. He also pointed out that the levels were acceptable until 2004 when the EPA lowered their threshold. He said the water quality didn’t change, but that the regulations have gotten tighter.
“What was safe back then is unsafe today,” Bates said in the 2009 interview.
Those 2009 records unrelated to the recent lead testing say, however, that he also attempted to ignore poor water readings and submitted misleading, inaccurate or false reports.
The Ohio EPA now is calling for a criminal investigation of Bates after saying he falsified reports about high levels of lead and copper being detected last summer in some homes in Sebring. His license has been revoked by the Ohio EPA, and he has been pulled from working at 10 other water districts in which he serves as operator.
Village of Malvern Mayor Angela Lambert also asked Bates for his resignation earlier this week, in light of the ongoing investigation.
Bates declined to comment on the allegations when contacted Tuesday night, saying that he is working with legal counsel.
Village Manager Rick Giroux said he wasn’t in the loop on many of the notices between Sebring’s water plant and the Ohio EPA.
Letters sent to Bates began in September, but the EPA didn’t send a letter to Giroux until December 3.
“The EPA and the plant superintendent had obviously been in contact since the original testing, and that was beyond the scope of my knowledge, because I wasn’t notified,” he said.
Giroux, who began his job at the village in 2013, said he was also unaware of the EPA’s earlier actions against Bates.
“Anything regarding Mr. Bates, his operations or his work methods, to this point, were not in question,” he said.
EPA spokeswoman Heidi Griesmer has said the EPA asked Bates for months to notify the public of the problem drinking water and had to issue a notice of violation for him to do so.
“It is certainly a priority for us to have a working water treatment plant for the Village of Sebring, and for the residents, to get them relief as quickly as possible,” she said.
In the last few years, the EPA has begun notifying the owners of water plants when operators make mistakes. That is something the agency doesn’t think happened in 2009.
Going forward, whoever is in charge of the Sebring Water Plant can expect close monitoring of the their work.
“I am sure this person will be watched,” Griesmer said.