SEBRING, Ohio (WKBN) – The Ohio Environmental Protection Agency has issued a new notice of violation to the village of Sebring for failing to provide the agency with water test results and other information, as required.
The violation says the village failed to give the Ohio EPA contact names and phone numbers of homes which were tested for lead and to provide the EPA with test results for pH and alkalinity levels on February 1 and 8, as required.
February 7 email from the Ohio EPA to Village Manager Richard Giroux also says that the village did not notify two homeowners, who requested voluntary water sampling, that their test results showed high levels of lead in their water. The test results, available to the village on Friday, showed that the water levels had some of the highest lead levels reported, but the homeowners weren’t notified by 8 p.m. Saturday, according to the email.
“When EPA staff followed up this weekend to conduct cautionary testing on a few homes that tested above the federal allowable level, it became evident that the village had not notified these residents of their recent test results as quickly and thoroughly as they should have,” said Ohio EPA Director Craig Butler. “I expect the village to keep the public in mind and provide prompt information to its residents.”
The Ohio EPA requested that the village provide names and phone numbers for residents whose water was tested, so that further visits and communication could be conducted, and contact information of the homeowners who have requested water testing, so that EPA officials can confirm notifications. The Ohio EPA says it will also conduct additional home visits and water testing to help residents understand how to reduce lead exposure.
When contacted by WKBN Tuesday night about the violation, Giroux said he had not received the notice. He said he would speak to a reporter on Wednesday, after he had a chance to read over the violation, but said he believed Sebring had been in compliance.
Giroux did not respond to multiple requests for comment on Wednesday, and he was said to be in meetings all day. He did issue the following statement via email:
The Village of Sebring is looking into the reasons for notice of violation at this time. It was our understanding that we were/are meeting all OEPA requirements and deadlines based on the correspondence, actions and time line prior to the violation issuance.
Since the Ohio EPA sent a notice of violation to the village on January 21 requiring the village to notify its water customers that high levels of lead had been found in a few samples, the village has been offering free water testing to customers. A total of 698 samples were tested, and 34 of those samples showed high levels of lead.
The water plant did not have high lead levels, but the water was found to be acidic, causing older pipes to leach lead into the water.
The EPA says follow up tests confirm that the water coming into the homes is healthy and turning on the tap for several minutes successfully eliminates any detectable lead in the water. It is continuing to work with the village to make sure the plant is lead free, while the village continues to provide bottled water or filtration systems to those affected.
Valley Congressman Tim Ryan said state and federal lawmakers need to take a look at the nation’s infrastructure, including its aging water system.
In the wake of lead contamination problems in Sebring, as well as in Flint, Michigan, Ryan is pushing new federal legislation to require agencies like the EPA to notify residents and communities sooner when contamination problems are discovered.
On Wednesday, the Safe Drinking Water Act Improved Compliance Awareness Act, which he introduced with Congressmen Dan Kildee (D-MI) and Fred Upton (R-MI) last week, passed the House by a vote of 416-2. It requires the EPA to create a strategic plan for handling and improving information flow between water utilities, the states, the EPA and affected consumers.
He said he also thinks more needs to be done to fix local water systems and prevent problems in the future.
“The big elephant in the middle of the room is that we have 3 to 6 million miles of lead pipe in the United States, and we’ve got to rebuild the country, and we’ve been talking about roads and bridges, but it also gets in the water systems and water lines,” he said.