YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio (WKBN) – Congressman Tim Ryan, D-Niles, is calling for the resignation of Ohio Environmental Protection Agency Director Craig Butler.
Ryan made the comments in a Facebook post late Wednesday.
In the post, Ryan said, “the people deserve better,” and called for Butler to step down.
State officials knew for months that the water in Sebring contained high levels of lead, and did nothing to protect the men, women, and children who rely on them for their safety and well being. I call for the immediate resignation of the Ohio EPA Director Craig Butler. The people of Ohio deserve better.
Ryan was commenting on a Columbus Dispatch article that said the Ohio EPA knew of elevated lead levels in the Sebring water for months. Multiple warnings from the Ohio EPA were sent to the water treatment plant, demanding that Water Superintendent James Bates notify the public.
When reached via phone on Thursday, Ryan said something had to be done about the issue, even though Sebring isn’t in his district.
He added that there is a real health concern given the delay of notification to the water customers.
“That people were drinking this water and bathing their babies in this water and they did nothing and said, ‘Oh, that local person was supposed to tell,’ that’s B-S,” he said.
Congressman Bill Johnson, R-Marietta, said in a statement that now is not the time for “finger-pointing;” now is the time to fix the problem.
It’s critically important that the people of Sebring have safe drinking water. The federal EPA sent Director Butler a letter on Tuesday approving of the Ohio EPA’s actions over the last week. I’ll continue to engage with state and local officials, and closely monitor developments on this important issue.”
Sebring water customers — which include approximately 8,100 residents in Sebring, Beloit, Maple Ridge and parts of Smith Township — weren’t officially notified by the village until Thursday, January 21. It was then the village issued an advisory, urging pregnant women and children to avoid drinking the water and others to flush it before using it.
EPA documents indicate officials had been aware of the lead problems since late summer but sent repeated memos to the village water plant manager urging him to notify the community.
A letter, written from the Ohio EPA to City Manager Richard Giroux, states that tests from the June through September 2015 monitoring period showed that the village’s water exceeded the lead action level. That letter was dated December 3, 2015.
Butler claims he learned of the issue only last week and immediately put out the word.
Ryan said he’s not buying that explanation.
“After you’ve known about it for months, or somebody in your organization — very high-level people in your organization — have known about it for months, I think you gotta go,” he said.
Other officials say they think it’s too premature to demand Butler’s resignation.
“Just saying, ‘ Today’s the day that Craig Butler has to resign,’ I’m not sure I’m there yet,” said State Sen. Joe Schiavoni.
Schiavoni has also been critical of Butler and his agency, but he said it is still too early to be calling for resignations. Mahoning County Commissioners added that there will be plenty of time to assess blame.
“All this political stuff can come second. Let’s take care of our residents,” said Mahoning County Commissioner Anthony Traficanti.
One point all agree on — the state should have stepped in much sooner.
“If it was that important that they called, they should’ve got in the car and come here and notified them,” said Commissioner Carol Righetti.
Schiavoni says he is working on legislation that would require the EPA to do just that in the future.