Lead Levels Spark Concern In Sebring, Prompt Ohio EPA To Launch Investigation

Water faucet (Photo: MajicDolphin/Flickr.com)
Water faucet (Photo: MajicDolphin/Flickr.com)
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By ideastream’s Brian Bull

Lead levels in drinking water have caused a crisis in Flint, Michigan, but now similar concerns are emerging in the northeastern Ohio village of Sebring.

For two consecutive days, classes at Sebring’s schools have been canceled while testing continues.  The Ohio Environmental Protection Agency says one school’s water fountain had a higher than allowable level of lead, while others had either none --or acceptable-- levels.

Pat Sweeney is the Mahoning County Health Commissioner.  She says first, pregnant or breastfeeding women, and developing children should drink bottled water. 

“And that all residents continue to flush their water at home for a period of at least 30 secs to 2 minutes,” says Sweeney.  “But I understand the best protocol is to wait until you feel a temperature change, so that you know that you’ve used or drawn out all of the water in your pipes, so that there’s no sitting water any longer that’s coming out of your tap water.”   

Lead can cause significant harm in infants and developing children, adds Sweeney. 

“So it ends up causing some neurological issues, some behavioral issues, attention issues, and it doesn’t go away.  Once it’s there, it doesn’t leave.”

Meanwhile, Sebring’s current water system manager has been placed on paid administrative leave.  The Ohio EPA says it’s working to revoke his license and has also approached the federal EPA’s criminal investigation division to look into the matter.

In a press release, the state EPA says while water from the Sebring treatment plant has no detectable lead, the operator failed to inform the public that high levels of lead and copper were found in some homes last summer….and that some reports may have been falsified.

Officials say Sebring’s adjusted its water chemistry to reduce corrosion in homes with lead pipes or lead soldering.  It shows 25 out of 28 homes are now below federal guidelines for lead levels.  Homes with PVC piping are not at risk.

Sweeney says for now, her staff will hold off on further screening of Sebring residents.

“If there is demand, we may talk with officials and see if they would like us to come back into the community to do additional lead screening,” says Sweeney. “All of the equipment that was used was provided to us by the Ohio Department of Health, it is not equipment that we have on hand every day.  So for as long as we have that equipment available to us, we’ll continue to offer testing for the residents of Sebring and the surrounding area, that receive water from the Sebring village water plant.”

Sebring’s water system serves 8,100 customers. 

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