Kasich responds to questions on Sebring water crisis

Sherrod Brown criticizes state response; proposes new legislation

John Kasich responded to questions from reporters on the Sebring Water Crisis, while campaigning in New Hampshire.
Gov. John Kasich responded to questions from reporters on the Sebring Water Crisis, while campaigning in New Hampshire.

CONCORD, New Hampshire – (WKBN) – While Sebring Water customers are being tested for elevated lead levels in their blood, Ohio Gov. John Kasich has kept pretty quiet on the issue.

A criminal investigation is underway into why Sebring Water customers were not notified for about five months after elevated lead levels were detected in several water samples. The Ohio Environmental Protection Agency has accused Sebring Water Superintendent Jim Bates of falsifying reports, while state representatives have been critical of the EPA for failing to notify customers until January 21.

While Gov. John Kasich is campaigning for the presidential nomination in New Hampshire, reporters asked him about Sebring after a speech at Concord High School.

Latest coverage: Sebring water crisis

“Some tests have come back well, but the key was that the water coming in was clean, and we’ve been on top of it as soon as our top people found out,” Kasich said. “We’ve made dramatic changes and we’ll stay on it working with the federal EPA and we’re doing everything that can possibly be done. I’m on top of this every minute of every day.”​

State representatives, like Sen. Sherrod Brown, say the state government is not doing enough, however. Brown is joining other legislatures, like Rep. John Boccieri, in drafting legislation to combat the issue.

“If any state official knows if there’s a problem, if there’s lead in the water, they have to tell the community right away, whether it’s the Governor’s office, or the EPA, or whoever in Columbus,” Brown said on Thursday. “They didn’t do that.”

Brown’s legislation proposes having the U.S. EPA automatically alert the public of an issue if a state or local agency fails to do so. The Ohio EPA has said responsibility currently falls on the water plant to make notifications.

The legislation is similar to those introduced by Boccieri, as well as Congressman Tim Ryan, which strengthens public notification requirements.

If passed, Browns legislation would:

  • Require communities to have a plan in place to fix the problem within six months. The current requirement is up to 18 months;
  • Require there to be a plan in place to make sure communities have access to clean, safe water in the meantime; and
  • Improve transparency by requiring the EPA to make annual state water quality reports available online in one, easy to use place.

Brown said he learned of the issues in Sebring when it was released to the public, and he said since then, he has been in talks with the Sebring mayor, U.S. EPA and others. He placed the blame on the Ohio EPA for failing to notify the public earlier and in the lack of funding given to local communities for infrastructure fixes, saying older lead pipes should be updated as well.

“I’m not a lawyer, but it’s almost criminal that people in Columbus knew about this, knew that there was lead in drinking water, knew that it would affect a small child’s growth – physical and mental — and a fetus, knew about this and did nothing,” he said. “At best, it’s shameful. At worst, it can’t happen again.”

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