COLUMBIANA, Ohio (WKBN) – Ohio Governor John Kasich was in Columbiana Thursday to sign a water protection bill.
“I don’t think this is an extreme measure. It just represents common sense and legitimate protection for the public,” Kasich said.
The new two-day notification is a major switch from current federal rules that give water plants 30 days to notify all residents. The information can be sent through email or posted on social media.
Communities are also required to conduct a public education campaign within 30 days of finding lead in the water supply, instead of 60 days.
Ohio State Senator and bill co-sponsor Joe Schiavoni says notifying the public sooner is important, but there is still work to do.
“We have to make sure we have an infrastructure in place that does not have contaminants, that does not leech lead. Again, it takes money, it takes time.”
The measure also calls for speeding up the process of testing for lead in drinking water and helping cities map and remove lead pipes.
Also under the bill, municipal wastewater treatment sites will now have greater access to the state Water Pollution Control Loan Fund to help prevent lead contamination. The bill also extends the amount of time a city has to re-pay its loan.
Schools can also receive funding to test their drinking water and replace fixtures if necessary.
“There is $15,000 per school available for lead testing and replacing fixtures and faucets,” Ginter said.
“It’s really an emerging problem. I mean, people are now beginning to understand it but I’m not sure that anyone ever really fully understood the extent of the infrastructure problem,” Kasich said. “It was revealed in Flint, we’ve seen it in Sebring, we see it all across the country in communities.”
“It was a bad thing that turned out to be a good thing because it brought it to the attention of people, so they got it fixed,” said Berti Runyon, of Sebring. “[The crisis] got a lot of publicity and made it known that there is this problem and that it could happen anywhere.”
Two EPA employees were fired and the Sebring water director lost his job at the beginning of this year because of the crisis.
For many residents of the village, the water problems are long gone now.
“It’s clearer and no, it doesn’t smell. The water seems clear,” said Brandie Nagy.
Sandy Abrams says that her water tested high at first but she kept following the testing, and now the water is fine.
“They did something to the pipes. They ran something through it and it seemed to correct the problem. Now, I’m fine, I have no problems at all. I’ve always had faith in Sebring water.”
Not everyone is that confident. Marcus Proctor still uses bottled water, even for cooking for his three children.
“They say they fixed the water, but there’s still the same pipes that the water’s flowing through from the city’s valve. Better safe than sorry,” he said.
Sebring has to complete six months of clean water readings before the EPA will lift the remaining restrictions. It has been using a chemical that coats the pipes and prevents leaching.
“I think it’s a good thing that Sebring’s moving forward positively and hopefully it’s helping other areas, not only Sebring,” Dana Davis said.
Ohio has had 21 water systems show high lead levels in the last three years, according to the EPA. Sebring was the largest, serving 8,000 people.
Editor’s note: A previous version of this story stated that current law requires water plants to notify residents within 60 days. They are required to notify them within 30 days, according to current federal rules. WKBN regrets the error.