Facing a growing drinking water crisis like the one in Flint, Michigan, a small Ohio town about halfway between Canton and Youngstown has captured national attention. According to CBS News Monday, the water treatment operator in Sebring, Ohio, is facing a criminal investigation from the Ohio Environmental Protection agency after elevated levels of lead and copper were found in tap water.
Sebring’s city manager issued an advisory Thursday night and schools have been shut. It has also been advised that children and pregnant women shouldn’t drink the village system’s tap water after seven of 20 homes where the water is routinely tested showed levels of lead and copper that exceeded U.S. Environmental Protection Agency standards.
Stating they have reason to suspect Bates falsified reports, the Ohio EPA said it is taking steps to revoke the license of James Bates, Sebring’s Water Superintendent reports CBS affiliate WKBN. The agency claims that Bates “is not properly performing his duties in a manner that is protective of public health.”
“The games the Village of Sebring was playing by giving us incomplete data time and time again, and not submitting the required documents, made it difficult for our field office to determine whether or not they had notified their customers,” said Heidi Griesmer, an Ohio EPA representative.
Despite the investigation, Ohio Environmental Protection Agency spokesman James Lee told WFMJ-TV in Youngstown that the lead is not coming from the Sebring water treatment plant or the Mahoning River, where the village’s system gets its water. Believing the traces of lead and copper are coming from smaller distribution lines and possibly old homes with lead pipes, Lee said, “We are working with Sebring water treatment plant to make adjustments to minimize leaching of lead into the water.”
KCCI Sunday reported tests showed lead levels at 21 parts per billion in some homes, according to Heidi Griesmer, spokeswoman for the Ohio EPA. The feds require the levels not to exceed 15 parts per billion. Health officials found lead levels as high as 27 parts per billion in Flint, according to CNN’s Dr. Sanjay Gupta.
Only three of 28 homes affected from new water sampling results remain above the federal-mandated level for lead, the Ohio EPA said. Additionally, all but one of the 15 water samples taken at three local schools have lead levels that meet federal standards. The numbers may be improving, but more work is needed, state officials said.
“While the water system has a clean water source and supply, it is still unacceptable that a few individual homes are experiencing corrosion that is causing high levels of lead,” said Craig W. Butler, the Ohio EPA director.
The Ohio EPA said it has ordered Sebring to continue water testing and provide health screenings and bottled water or filtration systems to homes with unsafe lead levels. It said it is providing $25,000 to the town for filtration systems.