Flint, Michigan may not be the only city with a water crisis these days. Unacceptably high levels of lead have been found in the drinking water of Sebring, Ohio, a village of 4,000 located 60 miles southwest of Cleveland.
On Thursday, January 21, the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency issued a notice of violation to the city; the city manager issued an advisory the same night, instructing children and pregnant women not to drink tap water. The advisory indicated that 7 of 20 houses showed lead levels of 21 parts per million, while federal EPA limits are 15 ppm. Sebring’s 650 public school students took Friday off and awaited further instructions.
The website explains that OEPA has “been working with the village to make adjustments to its water system chemistry to minimize lead from leaching into the water from residential piping.” And tests conducted in 28 homes over the weekend signified “improvement” because only three of them exceeded federal levels.
The agency also reported elevated levels in two of 123 samples taken at three different schools. The violations were found at two drinking water fountains, which were subsequently shut off. Schools reopened on Wednesday.
Meanwhile, the OEPA is helping the city perform additional testing, distribute pellet water and lead testing kits, and set up a screening station for pregnant women and children under six.
The state agency was quick to direct blame elsewhere. Its website accused city officials of failing to properly notify both its residents and the OEPA itself, explaining that “it has become apparent that our field office was too patient in dealing with the village of Sebring’s ‘cat and mouse’ game and should have had closer scrutiny on the water system meeting its deadlines.”
The OEPA is taking steps to revoke the license of water treatment operator Jim Bates, has opened an investigation, and “is requesting assistance from the US EPA’s Criminal Investigation Division.”
The OEPA is not happy with the Feds, either. It claims that “federal rules regarding leading drinking water are overly complicated, not easy to understand, and not protective of human health,.” and is now “calling for the U.S. EPA to immediately overhaul its lead regulations.” (The OEPA has stood guard over Ohio’s waters since its creation in 1972.)