Sebring, Ohio, a small town just outside of Youngstown, is facing a safe water crisis similar to Flint, Michigan. Late last week, Sebring’s city manager issued a statement warning children and pregnant women not to drink the village system’s tap water.
After the warning, the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency got involved by opening an investigation into Sebring’s water treatment plant. According to a CBS News report, they suspect James Bates, Sebring’s Water Superintendent, falsified reports to the agency.
In an emergency order issued Monday, Bates is prohibited from working at the plant and was subsequently sent home on administrative leave. The state agency is in the process of revoking Bates’ operating license.
“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.
The Ohio EPA also wants the U.S. EPA to investigate what is happening with Sebring’s water and determine if criminal charges should be filed. As previously reported by the Inquisitr, the agency is also trying to determine just how long Bates may have known about the contamination.
According to federal law, the public must be notified when high levels of lead are discovered. Ohio EPA Director Craig Butler said the agency should have pushed harder for public notification since testing found high lead levels in several homes way back in June.
“We should have had this elevated for immediate action sooner,” Butler said. “Our number one priority is protecting the public health.”
In a public statement issued Friday, Sebring city manager James Giroux revealed to residents that 20 older homes were tested and seven of them were positive for high levels of lead and copper. The testing found lead levels at 21 parts per billion in the homes, while the acceptable EPA standard is only 15 parts per billion.
As a precaution, the district closed all the schools on Friday. After tests performed over the weekend found lead exceeding the EPA standards in one of the school’s drinking fountains, students were told to remain home on Monday. At the EPA’s request, further testing is being conducted as a precautionary measure.
Concerned residents of Sebring packed the Village Hall on Monday night looking for answers. Yet, the village council did not provide any, instead telling citizens that any questions about the water will need to be directed to the county health department or the Ohio EPA.
“It’s a witch hunt right now, I just want some good answers, I want to know the truth, I want to know if somebody did know about this,” said resident and business owner Mark Hughes.
Although on a smaller scale, the Sebring water issue comes on the heels of the problems in Flint, Michigan, which have gained national attention. After operators at Flint’s water treatment plant failed to properly treat the water, making it less corrosive, high levels of lead were found in the water supplied to the city.
James Lee, also from the Ohio EPA, says the lead in Sebring’s water isn’t coming from the treatment plant or the Mahoning River. According to Lee, the agency thinks the lead and copper are coming from smaller distribution lines as well as older homes with lead pipes.
Sebring and surrounding communities received 150 pallets of water from the state, and volunteers were busy over the weekend handing it out. Meanwhile, Ohio EPA has provided the Mahoning County Health Department with lead testing kits and is in the process of setting up a screening clinic at one of the elementary schools.
“Our primary focus is to distribute this water to pregnant women, infants and children,” said Mahoning Emergency Management Agency Director Dennis O’Hara. “That is our primary focus.”
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the consumption of lead is known to cause serious health issues for infants and young children. Symptoms of lead poisoning include headaches, stomach pain, and behavioral problems. Lead can also cause anemia and detrimentally affect the proper development of a child’s brain.
Approximately 8,100 homes and businesses in three Mahoning County communities receive water from the Sebring, Ohio system. As ordered by the Ohio EPA, the village must maintain its warning about the health risks to children and pregnant women for at least one year.
[Photo by Cate Gillon/Getty Images]