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2 fired, 1 demoted in Sebring lead crisis

Ohio epa
Published: 2/18/16 @ 12:05


Staff report

SEBRING

The Ohio Environmental Protection Agency fired two employees in its central office and demoted another in its Northeast District office in the wake of the Sebring Village water lead crisis.

Ohio EPA Director Craig Butler said the actions were taken after an internal administrative review of the handling of the Sebring water issue.

The internal review concluded that an Ohio EPA central- office employee responsible for sending laboratory results from that office failed to ensure that data was provided to the field office to help it conduct its review.

That employee was terminated for nonperformance and the employee’s supervisor was fired for not properly managing an employee who had an existing record of performance issues.

In addition, a manager in the Northeast District office was demoted for not elevating the Sebring issue to management or the agency’s director when the district informed the village of lead in its water on Dec. 3, 2015.

Also as a result of this review, Ohio EPA has made revisions to its operating procedures involving lead in drinking water to ensure this failure is not repeated.

And the agency has established a new process to provide staff with a direct and expedited communication route to senior Ohio EPA officials of events or situations that are not being addressed that have possible significant environmental and public health consequences.

Further, the agency has sent recommendations to Ohio’s congressional delegation for improvements to federal lead rules, including challenges with the federal timelines for notification.

The agency is preparing recommendations to the Ohio Legislature to make certain the public’s expectations are met when lead is present in drinking water above federal action levels.

Butler, in a news release Wednesday, reviewed the Sebring situation.

He said he learned Jan. 21 that Sebring had failed to properly notify its customers of lead levels in certain homes and repeatedly failed to provide timely and accurate information to the agency’s field office, causing the Ohio EPA to issue a notice of violation to the village that day requiring that it take corrective action and notify its customers immediately.

The agency also issued emergency orders prohibiting James Bates, the village’s water-treatment plant operator, from operating any public water system in Ohio and revoked his license.

Also on Jan. 21, the Ohio EPA ordered the village of Sebring to offer free water testing for any homeowner who asked and pledged to make those test results public as they are received.

Of the nearly 900 samples Ohio EPA has received, only 40 have been above the federally allowable limit.

Ohio EPA has followed up on some of the high readings and has found that the water coming into the home is healthy and running the tap for several minutes successfully eliminates any detectable lead in the water.


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