Rep. calls for Ohio EPA director subpoena in Sebring water crisis

Ohio EPA Director Craig Butler said he is involved in the Sebring water investigation.
Ohio EPA Director Craig Butler said he is involved in the Sebring water investigation.

COLUMBUS, Ohio (WKBN)— State Rep. John Boccieri, D-Poland, is asking the Ohio House of Representatives to subpoena Ohio Environmental Protection Agency Director Craig Butler in relation to the EPA’s involvement in the Sebring water crisis.

Boccieri has accused the EPA of failing to protect the public from elevated lead levels found in the water late last summer. It wasn’t until January 21 that Sebring Water customers were notified that elevated levels had been found in several testing locations.

Boccieri letter to Ohio Speaker of House

The EPA says the problem originated from the water plant’s acidic water, which was causing older pipes to leach lead into the water. Butler has stated that he didn’t know about the issue until January 21, when the notice of violation was issued from the Ohio EPA.

Some officials at the Ohio EPA were aware of the incident in November, however, according to EPA letters sent to the Village of Sebring.

Boccieri has repeatedly asked Butler to provide the public with answers surrounding the delay in notification. He accused the Ohio EPA of putting pregnant women’s and children’s health at risk, as elevated levels of lead can pose health risk to those people.

Boccieri has also asked why the Ohio EPA renewed the license of former Sebring Water Superintendent Jim Bates, after the agency noted problems with him in 2009.

In response to his requests, 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.”

Butler is Gov. John Kasich’s former policy adviser and was appointed by Kasich to the Ohio EPA after the former director resigned amid questions of improper political pressure on state water regulators, according to Boccieri.

“We have received no answer to our repeated questions about steps taken by the EPA, which shares a moral and legal obligation to notify the public when such a crisis evolves, to remedy this crisis.” Boccieri wrote in the letter to Speaker of the House Cliff Rosenberger.

Butler was in Sebring on Thursday to meet with village officials about the situation.

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