WARREN, Ohio (WKBN) – Homes in two local communities tested high for lead levels in their water supply, while neighbors were not notified of the test results or potential risks to their own water.
In the case of Sebring, the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency has mounted a criminal investigation into Sebring Water Superintendent Jim Bates‘ handling of the issue, alleging that he supplied falsified water reports and failed to notify water customers as required.
In Warren, where two homes tested well above the federal action level for lead, Ohio EPA spokesperson Heidi Greismer said only the homeowners of the affected homes had to be notified, as less than 10 percent of homes tested had lead readings above 15 parts per billion. There, one of two homes on Perkinswood Boulevard had a reading of 64 parts per billion.
State Rep. John Boccieri, D-Poland, has been critical of the Ohio EPA’s handling of the Sebring water crisis, saying that the EPA should have stepped in when water customers were not notified of the high lead levels for months after test results discovered the issue. On Monday, he announced legislation to establish “clear standards for water testing and public notification procedures” in cases of lead contamination.
“The Ohio EPA shares a legal and moral responsibility to notify citizens when dangerous levels of lead are found in their water,” Boccieri said. “This legislation will prevent communities from being kept in the dark regarding water contamination by requiring the proper authorities to notify citizens in a timely matter, not months after the fact.”
The bill proposes:
- Requiring local boards of health to conduct tests on public waters systems in the manner already outlined in the Ohio Revised Code through a state-certified vendor
- Specifying that public water systems will fund the tests conducted by boards of health
- Requiring public water systems to notify the public within 30 days of an EPA determination that water test results show levels of lead that exceed federal standards
- If the water system fails to perform such notification, requiring the EPA Director to direct the local department of health to notify the public of the contamination within 15 days
- Applying the same civil and criminal penalties that already exist in the code for a violation of public notification to both the EPA Director and local boards of health if they fail to abide by this timeline
- Specifying that all users of a water system that has been determined to be contaminated with lead must be notified of such contamination, not just those users who are affected
- Establishing biannual training and license renewal requirements regarding lead contamination procedures for local water authorities (requirements will be determined by EPA)
Boccieri said, while the Ohio EPA has suspended two of its employees who had knowledge of the water contamination in Sebring, more is needed to be done.
“Our public agencies that are tasked with protecting the environment, and our communities must be held accountable when they fail to fulfill their mission. Suspending employees who failed to protect public health is a good first step toward turning responsibility in to action,” he said. “But the EPA’s move doesn’t answer many of the questions that still remain.”
Boccieri questions why the EPA said it was first notified of the test results in late fall when the state-certified vendor provided written documentation proving that it sent the first results to the EPA on August 21. He requested that the House Energy and Natural Resources Committee subpoena EPA Director Craig Butler on the Sebring water crisis.
In the meantime, members of a local labor union are coming to the aid of those in Sebring who have been affected by lead contamination.
IUE-CWA Local 717 started collecting donations of bottled water last month to be shared with residents in Flint, Michigan because of the lead problems there. But since word spread of the crisis in Sebring, members say they will split what is collected between the two communities.
Donations are being taken at the 717 union hall in Warren each day this week, between 7 a.m. and 3 p.m. The hall is located at 2950 Sferra Ave. NW.