By Ed Runyan
Councilman Vince Flask says he’s unhappy with the lack of notification to Warren water customers of an East Side neighborhood where two high lead readings were found last summer.
He also is “a little disappointed” that Warren’s new utilities director did not tell council members last week about the two high readings on Perkinswood Boulevard Southeast.
“The fact that there were two high readings was never mentioned,” Flask said of a presentation Utilties Director Franco Lucarelli gave to council members and the public Wednesday.
On Sunday, The Vindicator revealed high lead levels that were uncovered after city testing last summer. The city did not release the addresses of the affected homes but a document on the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency website revealed the data.
Lucarelli, who recently became director after former director Bob Davis took a new job in May, discussed testing of Warren’s water Wednesday at a public meeting of council members and gave a similar report at the regular council meeting that followed.
The presentation was prompted by questions about Warren’s water resulting from news coverage of lead-related problems in Flint, Mich., and Sebring.
Lucarelli said the water coming from the Warren water-treatment plant was fine, but lead can leach out of lead pipes and fixtures in some homes, causing elevated lead levels in the water, Flask said.
Lucarelli did not mention that a house on Perkinswood had a reading of 64 parts per billion – four times higher than the allowable level set by the federal government – or that the other high reading was less than two blocks away, Flask said. The other reading was 18 ppb, three parts higher than the allowable level of 15.
Flask, who represents Perkinswood as 5th Ward councilman, said he learned about the readings in Sunday’s Vindicator.
Perkinswood residents interviewed by The Vindicator last week expressed concern that they were never notified that two high lead readings – the only two out of 28 homes tested – had been found so close to their home. Some other elevated readings also came from the city’s East Side.
Attempts to reach Mayor Doug Franklin and Safety-Service Director Enzo Cantalamessa on Monday were unsuccessful.
Meanwhile, state Rep. John Boccieri of Poland, D-59th, announced Monday he plans to introduce legislation to establish clear standards for water testing and public notification procedures in cases of lead contamination.
“The Ohio EPA shares a legal and moral responsibility to notify citizens when dangerous levels of lead are found in their water,” Boccieri said. “This legislation will prevent communities from being kept in the dark regarding water contamination by requiring the proper authorities to notify citizens in a timely matter, not months after the fact.”
The bill would give public water systems 30 days to notify the public of test results that show levels of lead above the federal standard of 15 ppb. If no such notification occurs, the bill would require the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency director to act by the end of the next business day to direct the local board of health to notify the public of the contamination.
The local board then has 15 days to perform that notification. Both the EPA director and local boards of health would be subject to civil and criminal penalties should they fail to abide by the timeline spelled out in the bill, according to Boccieri.
Boccieri has been critical of Ohio EPA Director Craig Butler and his agency, for its “failure to protect the public for some six months” after lead was found in drinking water in Sebring and Beloit.
“Unfortunately, the Ohio Revised Code is dangerously unclear about when authorities must notify the public about such public health crises,” Bocceri said in a letter to other house members that seeks co-sponsors.
Health officials say lead may cause serious health problems, especially for pregnant women, infants and children. Because of concerns about it, lead-based paint was banned in 1977, and leaded gas was phased out in 1986.
Lucarelli told The Vindicator that the 30 homes tested from June 20 to July 2 received a letter giving the parts-per-billion reading found in water from the kitchen sink and additional information about lead in water, but there is no requirement under federal law to notify any other city water customer.
Butler said last week that a 64 ppb reading “would be enough to concern me that we would want to see it addressed.” He said he’s looking to institute policies at his agency that go beyond federal requirements.
Flask said he is “not real comfortable with how [Warren residents] are notified or educated,” saying: “I think maybe we need to look at” that.
Flask said it’s too bad Sebring residents were exposed to high lead levels for several months without being informed about it by village officials or the Ohio EPA. “Let’s take the opportunity to educate our residents and change our policy as to how people are notified,” he added.
The resident of the Perkinswood home with the 64 reading, a water-department employee, said he knows the reason his lead level was high: There is a lead service line running from the road to the house that leaches lead from the pipe to his water, so he lets the water run for up to two minutes to eliminate lead that collects in the line. He also drinks bottled water, he said.
Flask said his house on Hazelwood Avenue Southeast was built in 1925, during a time period when lead waterlines were installed in Warren.
Flask has children and doesn’t know whether his water has an elevated lead level, he said. He also never knew until recently it is recommended to let the water run for up to two minutes before drinking it under certain circumstances.
Flask said the city water department uses water bills to provide city residents with lots of information, so he would like that method to be used to educate the public as to getting a free water test from the city, letting the tap water run and other water issues.
Councilman at large Eddie Colbert said anyone like him who is unsure of what type of pipes and plumbing they have should contact the water department for a water test and an explanation of the type of pipes and plumbing.
“I’m not a plumbing guy,” Colbert said. “Obviously there’s a chance that my lines are lead,” he said.
His house on Autumn Drive Northwest was built in 1960.
He also recommends that the water department identify the homes with the highest likelihood of having lead pipes because of the year they were built and have those tested without the resident having to ask.