Health board tests food vendors’ tap water

By Peter H. Milliken


The Mahoning County Board of Health staff has been busy collecting and lead-testing water samples from licensed food sellers connected to the Sebring public water supply system, for which the state has declared a water-supply emergency based on elevated lead levels.

Meanwhile, a published report says the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency has disciplined two agency workers concerning the village’s lead-contamination problem.

The Columbus Dispatch reported two agency employees were placed on administrative leave.

EPA officials have said the two were “too patient” with the Sebring public water system, which found out in August that at least three homes in its water system had water that contained unsafe levels of lead.

On Monday, BOH staff visited the last of 36 county-licensed food-selling premises in the system, having already visited the other 35, said Ryan Tekac, environmental health director for the county board of health.

The village also announced a schedule of free bottled drinking water distribution to residential and business Sebring public water system customers at the Sebring Community Center, 305 W. Texas Ave.

The distribution hours will be 2 to 7 p.m. today and Thursday; 7 a.m. to noon, Wednesday and Friday; and 10 a.m. to 3 p.m., Saturday. The center will not distribute water Sunday.

Those receiving the water must show proof of residence or a business location within the Sebring water distribution system and must agree to have their premises tested for lead in the water, said Richard D. Giroux, village manager.

Based on Ohio Department of Health advice, county BOH staff have been collecting just one tap-water sample for testing from each food-service operation or retail food establishment, Tekac said.

If a test result shows lead concentrations higher than 15 parts per billion, the vendors were told to install an approved filter, provide an alternate water source for drinking and food preparation or flush and retest the waterlines.

Besides tests of food vendors’ tap water, the BOH lab in Austintown is also conducting lead tests on residential water samples submitted by people served by the village water supply system, which has 8,100 customers.

The village ran out of the first shipment of 120 sampling bottles sent to village hall last week for residential testing on the very day the shipment was received.

The BOH then sent the village an additional 600 plastic sampling bottles.

The village is paying $15 for each test the BOH lab conducts for food vendors and residents.

Residents have been invited to pick up testing bottles at village hall.

The Ohio Environmental Protection Agency’s emergency declaration was buried in a letter its director sent to James Bates, the Sebring water treatment operator, who is now on paid administrative leave.

That letter, dated Jan. 25, told Bates he had to immediately cease functioning as the village’s water treatment operator of record and that he was not to interfere with other village water treatment plant operators.

In another Jan. 25 letter, Butler proposed to revoke Bates’ water treatment operator’s license and told Bates he had 30 days from the date of the letter to request a hearing.

Butler said Bates performed his duties “in a negligent or incompetent manner,” which he said “endangers public health or welfare” and accused him of “submitting misleading, inaccurate or false reports” and failing to follow standard operating procedures and best-management practices.

Bates has emphatically denied falsifying records.

The health board also continued its blood lead-testing Monday for infants and pregnant women.

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