MEDIA CONTACT: Heidi Griesmer

Additional Water Samples Show Improvement in Sebring; Some Residents Still Impacted

EPA Director To Revoke Local Water Treatment Operator’s License and
Calls for Federal Government to Overhaul its Lead Regulations


As the village of Sebring makes changes to its water chemistry to reduce corrosion in homeowners’ piping, new water sampling results show progress as 25 of the 28 homes where water samples were taken are below the federal guidelines. In addition, 15 water samples were taken at three local schools and all but one sample was lower than the allowable level.

West Branch High School: All five tests had no detection of lead.
McKinley Junior/Senior High: Four tests had no detection of lead, but one water fountain had a higher than the allowable level.
BL Elementary School: Three tests had no detection of lead and two detections were below the allowable level.

Ohio EPA will be conducting additional tests tonight at McKinley Junior/Senior High and BL Elementary School to ensure the safety of the students.

Separate tests from the water plant where it enters the water system, not included in the tests cited above, confirm the village of Sebring water treatment plant is healthy and has no detectable lead.

While the treatment adjustments the water system has made appears to be working, there are three homes that remain above the federal allowable level. The village of Sebring has a legal obligation to develop a plan to adjust its treatment and processes to minimize lead from leeching into the water from residential piping, as well as issue quarterly news releases alerting the community to the risk from lead in water and notify homeowners of the test results for their homes. In addition, Ohio EPA is requiring the village to continue to test the water, provide bottled water or filtration systems to homes where results are over the federal allowable level and work with the county to provide health screening for residents. To assist the village, Ohio EPA is providing up to $25,000 in financial assistance to the village to provide these filtration systems.

“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 Ohio EPA Director Craig W. Butler.

According to Ohio EPA, the village will not be able to lift its drinking water advisory for pregnant women and children until they receive two rounds of successful sampling events in consecutive six-month periods. In addition, the village will be required to provide individual tests upon request by its residents.

Under Butler’s direction, Ohio EPA is taking steps to revoke the water treatment operator license of Jim Bates, the current licensed operator, as he is not properly performing his duties in a manner that is protective of public health. The agency also has reason to suspect that the operator falsified reports, so it has opened an investigation and is requesting assistance from U.S. EPA’s Criminal Investigation Division.

“I believe federal rules regarding lead in drinking water are overly complicated, not easy to understand and not protective of human health,” said Butler. “Following the federal rules have led to internal protocols that are inconsistent with other drinking water protocols. Ohio EPA is calling for U.S. EPA to immediately overhaul its lead regulations.”

“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,” said Butler. “We are in the process of developing new protocols and appropriate personnel actions to ensure that our field staff takes action when it appears that a water system is not complying and taking their review seriously.”

After learning that the village had failed to properly notify its customers and of its repeated failure to provide timely and accurate information to the department’s field office, Butler issued a notice of violation to the village on Jan. 21 requiring that they notify their customers immediately. Other agencies within state government also quickly responded by:

• Deploying a team to assist in collecting 44 water samples in the area;
• Shipping 150 pallets of water to the area to be available to those in need;
• Delivering lead test kits to Mahoning County Health Department to enable testing of at-risk populations; and
• Establishing a screening clinic at BL Miller School to test individuals for potential lead exposure.

The village is still required to complete all immediate, short-term, and long-term actions required by Ohio EPA Director Craig W. Butler on Jan. 21 and federal and state law to adjust water chemistry, provide the public with information and conduct additional testing to confirm if these changes remain in effect.