Sebring, Ohio Lead Poisoning Risk Causes Town To Switch To Bottled Water

Ohio environmental officials say they are considering revoking the license of a water treatment operator, after a small village was restricted to bottled water due to high lead levels found in the water. 

Last week, residents from the village of Sebring, in northeast Ohio, were warned that high levels of lead were found in the drinking water, resulting in bottled water being shipped in and schools being shut down to prevent children from suffering lead poisoning.

On Sunday, the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency (Ohio EPA) issued a press release, indicating that the levels had mostly returned to normal, with the exception of a few households.

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At its peak, Sebring, Ohip water testing indicated lead levels of 21 parts per billion (PPB). Normal lead levels should be below 15 ppb, according to federal regulations.

Ohio EPA officials said they are taking steps to revoke the water treatment operator license for Jim Bates, whose facility provides the village of about 2,800 with water, because he was not protecting public health. The agency says it has reason to suspect that Bates falsified reports and is asking for assistance from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s Criminal Investigation Division.

“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,” Ohio EPA director Craig Butler said in the press release. “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.”

Ohio EPA officials said Sebring will not be able to lift its drinking water advisory for children and pregnant women until it has undergone two rounds of successful water testing in a consecutive six-month period. The agency is providing the village with $25,000 to provide filtration systems to the few homes which still appear to be affected by high levels of lead in their drinking water.

The incident comes as national attention is turned to lead in drinking water due to an ongoing crisis in the city of Flint, Michigan, which has had contaminated water since it was switched from the Detroit Water System to water from the Flint River in April 2014.

Flint residents immediately began complaining about cloudy and foul-smelling water, and many reported developing skin lesions and rashes after exposure to the water. However, the biggest health effect may have been on the city’s children, whose lead poisoning rate doubled since the switch.

Despite almost immediate community outcry and concerns, it took the state and Governor Rick Snyder a year and a half to admit there was a problem and switch the water back while the Lake Huron connection is being built. It is unclear how many of the city’s children have suffered permanent developmental damage due to lead poisoning during that time.

On January 16, President Barack Obama issued an emergency declaration on the Flint water crisis, allowing the city to receive federal assistance.

Governor Snyder, the City of Flint, and members of the Flint water authority face a class action lawsuit from Flint residents, who say they suffered skin lesions, hair loss, vision loss, and other ailments as a result. In addition, a federal investigation has been launched into how the crisis occurred, and some say Governor Snyder could be a focus of that probe.

The CDC estimates that 535,000 children ages 1-5, or about 2.6% of such children in the U.S., have levels of lead in their blood that place them at risk for adverse health effects. To come up with that number, the CDC analyzed data from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey from the years 1999 to 2002, and 2007 through 2010.

Lead poisoning for children is already known to increase the risk of nervous system injury, brain damage, seizures or convulsions, growth or mental retardation, coma and even death.


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