Sixth Sebring Resident Tests For Elevated Lead Levels

Blood sample (Photo: Geir Mogen, NTNU/Flickr.com)
Blood sample (Photo: Geir Mogen, NTNU/Flickr.com)
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By ideastream’s Brian Bull

A sixth person has tested positive for elevated lead levels in the northeastern Ohio village of Sebring. That’s where the local water’s chemical composition may have caused some resident’s pipes to leach lead.

Monday night, the Mahoning County Health Commission tested 32 Sebring residents for lead poisoning and found one with an elevated blood lead level. 

Altogether, more than 200 people in the Sebring area have been tested since officials disclosed nearly two weeks ago that water in seven homes had lead levels above federal safety standards. 

Pat Sweeney, the Mahoning County District Board of Health Commissioner, says a positive test doesn’t necessarily mean the person’s water supply is to blame. 

“Water generally isn’t a primary source of lead contamination, it’s generally the deteriorating lead paint or lead in the dust,” explains Sweeney. “But lead in water can contribute to an elevated blood lead level so it would indicate that they need to have that level verified by a physician, and if it is truly high, then an environmental assessment would need to be completed so they could understand where that individual may have been exposed to lead.”

The status of the six Sebring residents is unknown, due to privacy protections under federal law.  A Mahoning County spokeswoman says all have been referred to their physicians for further assessment. 

The water treatment plant operator has been removed from duty and remains under investigation by the Ohio and federal EPA.  He denies wrongdoing. 

The Ohio EPA also found elevated lead levels in water at a Chagrin Falls elementary school late last week.

Lead contamination in drinking water was discussed during today’s Sound of Ideas program on 90.3.

Lead levels that exceed the federal government’s acceptable threshold of 15 parts per billion are dangerous to people’s health, including those of pregnant mothers and developing infants and children. 

Casey Dinges of the American Society of Civil Engineers says that it’s also a major economic issue.  He says his organization has researched the financial impact of old, crumbling infrastructure across the country.

“If we were to up our infrastructure investments in water up by just about $9 billion a year over a 10-year period, we’d be protecting over $400 billion in GDP, over 700,000 jobs, and avert personal income losses of half a trillion dollars,” says Dinges. 

“So it’s a public health issue and a major economic issue for the United States.” 

As for lead testing, home kits can be purchased from hardware stores and online for as little as ten dollars. 

But experts say more thorough and accurate testing may come from having an Ohio EPA-certified laboratory come in and test a residences’ water. 

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