SEBRING, Ohio (WKBN) – State Rep. John Boccieri is demanding answers from the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency, which he said “failed to manage a public health crisis.”
The letter was sent to Ohio EPA Director Craig Butler on Wednesday. In it, Boccieri alleges that the Ohio EPA has not answered many of his questions as to why it did not become involved sooner, when Ream and Haager Laboratory discovered high levels of lead in the three water samples as early as August 20.
Sebring Water customers weren’t officially notified about the water advisory until January 21.
“It is clear to me that the water superintendent in Sebring should have moved with more urgency to notify the public over positive lead results in the water, and improve the corrosion control efforts of the aged delivery system,” he wrote. “But while the EPA’s rules require the water authority to report any indications of lead to consumers, state law identifies the EPA’s legal and moral obligation to notify customers should the water authority fail in that endeavor.”
When asked about the letter, Ohio EPA spokeswoman Heidi Griesmer said, “Our focus is getting this fixed, making sure this doesn’t happen again and removing a bad operator. We have already launched an investigation into this matter and will share more details when it is complete.”
The EPA has accused Sebring Water Superintendent Jim Bates of providing them falsified water test reports. His license has since been revoked, and he has been removed from the 10 other water systems that he operates.
The EPA did have a water advisory on its website with a start date of December 3, but the Notice of Violation against the village for failing to notify water customers wasn’t issued until January 21.
Boccieri questions whether Butler “believes it is acceptable that children in this community drank lead-tainted water for nearly six months while your regional staff failed to manage a public health crisis in a public health crisis in a timely manner?” He also asked why Bates’ annual water license was renewed after the EPA accused Bates of endangering public health in 2009.
Meanwhile, village officials met with county representatives, the Red Cross and the Ohio EPA during a closed-door meeting Wednesday to make sure they are addressing all issues involving the water crisis.
Sebring City Manager Richard Giroux said everything in the EPA’s action list is being addressed, and the PH balance in the water plant has been corrected. It was revealed in earlier testing that the water was too acidic, which may have been causing lead from pipes to leach into the water.
Last week, the state announced seven of 40 sites tested in the village showed unacceptably high levels of lead in residential water supplies. It forced schools to close and bottled water had to be trucked-in for distribution. Giroux said the state will soon start phasing out the bottled water distribution, and the city may soon be picking up the tab.
“As things get rectified, I need to make arrangements to continue the water supply to residents,” Giroux said.
Currently, each household can receive one gallon of water per person, per day, not to exceed a six-day supply. Those who can receive water from the village now are restricted only to current Sebring Water customers in the impacted area, who are pregnant women or who have children ages 6 and younger in the household.
The distribution center is being held at Sebring Community Center, located at 305 W. Texas Ave. Distribution of water will be from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Thursday and Friday, with additional hours determined next week.
Giroux admits the costs are mounting for the village, but says his top priority right now is ensuring that residents have safe water to drink.
Water testing is also being offered at no cost to the customer. Customers can pick up sampling bottles at the Village of Sebring Municipal Building, located at 135 E. Ohio Ave. Pick up is from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday.
The samples must then be dropped off at the Village of Sebring Municipal Building on Mondays and Wednesdays, no later than 10 a.n.
The results will be provided to residents via email, and a paper copy will be provided to the Village of Sebring Municipal Building, where they can be obtained.
For questions, contact the village at (330) 938-9340.