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Schools in Sebring have been closed for three days, as more tests are being done on their tap water. (Photo: timlewisnm/flickr/cc)

Flint All Over Again? Lead Poisoning Scandal Strikes Ohio Town

State Environmental Protection Agency has asked the U.S. EPA to open a criminal investigation into what occurred in Sebring

Deirdre Fulton

Schools in Sebring, Ohio were closed for a third day on Tuesday and pregnant women and children have been advised not to drink the water, after tests showed elevated levels of lead in the local water supply.

Though the village of about 4,300 in northeastern Ohio is much smaller than Flint, Michigan, the drinking water crises in the neighboring states share troubling aspects.

According to local news station WKBN: "Correspondence from the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency and the Village of Sebring show concerns with water testing, beginning in late September. Elevated lead levels were noted by the EPA in November, but customers didn’t learn of the issues until Thursday, meaning that some people could have been drinking water containing lead for months." WKBN has a full timeline of events here.

Scores of Sebring residents turned out for a village council meeting on Monday night, "many frustrated, angry or looking for answers," reports FOX8 Cleveland.

"A lot of us have kids at home, and we’re extremely afraid, and we need a mayor to stand up, be honest with us, hold people accountable and fix this problem," said one man in attendance.

Meanwhile, the Youngstown Vindicator reports that Village Manager Richard Giroux has placed (pdf) Sebring water treatment plant superintendent Jim Bates on paid administrative leave pending the outcome of a state investigation into the incident.

The Ohio Environmental Protection Agency (OEPA) says Bates was "not properly performing his duties to protect public health and may have falsified reports," the Vindicator writes. Reached at home on Monday evening, Bates denied the charges.

And OEPA's criticism stretches to other local officials, as well. "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 agency representative.

To that end, OEPA director Craig Butler has asked the U.S. EPA to open a criminal investigation into what occurred in Sebring.

Last week, news reports indicated that lead exposure is a pervasive issue not just in Flint, but across the country. 

"Flint is a microcosm," Robert Glennon, author of the book, Unquenchable: America's Water Crisis and What To Do About It, told the Christian Science Monitor. "The maintenance of water systems and wastewater systems is not just an urban problem, or a problem for places with low-income residents. It’s a problem all over the nation that needs to be addressed."

According to OEPA, Sebring 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.


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