COLUMBUS, Ohio (WKBN) – It was clear during my one-on-one interview with Ohio EPA Director Craig Butler that he has problems with two things in the Sebring Water Crisis, besides just the high levels of lead.
The first is suspended Sebring Water Superintendent Jim Bates, and his alleged violations for handling water samples which showed too much lead in the water.
“He has said he reported those results under federal law,” said Butler. “We don’t believe that’s accurate.”
That, along with notifying homeowners within the legal time frame, is a big focus of the criminal investigation into Bates’ actions. Plus, did he provide all collection data to the Ohio EPA.
Butler is also upset with his regional office and is making changes to the agency’s standard operating procedure with hard deadlines.
“Our expectation on how we implement this lead program are to change dramatically, as well as how we gather data so we determine if there’s an exceedance or not.”
Butler has asked the federal EPA to send a special team of experts from Cincinnati which specialize in lead.
“They are mobilized in Flint, but they’re bringing their targeted assistance to Sebring next week.”
Butler believes changing the water chemistry is already working.
“It’s serious. Minimizing the exposure to lead is the absolute objective,” Butler said.
Ohio EPA Director Craig Butler knows anything above 15 parts per billion of lead triggers a federal action level. Sebring had 21 ppb when the drinking water advisory was issued last week.
“The maximum number we had seen was 28. Compare that max in Flint was 13,000,” Butler said. “We’re starting to see some positive changes (in Sebring), where they went from having 6 or 7 exceedances where they were over the action level, now there are just 3.”
There are also only so many things the water plant can do. I also asked him if Sebring homeowners could have to replace their pipes.
“One of the most effective ways in making sure you don’t have lead in your system is removing that lead…So getting those fixtures out, or replacing those service lines,” Butler said.
Butler said there have been fewer instances where people have replaced their lines, rather than changing the water supply so lead doesn’t leach out of their system.