SEBRING WATER UPDATE | Water treatment operator placed on administrative leave

SEBRING — City Manager Richard Giroux announced this morning that he has placed Jim Bates, Sebring water treatment plant operator, on paid administrative leave effective today pending the outcome of a state investigation.

That came on the heels of a letter to the village from Andrew Barienbrock, manager of the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency's Division of Drinking and Ground Water.

"Mr. Giroux, as we discussed, an emergency order which prohibits Mr. Bates from acting as your operator of record was issued this morning," Barienbrock wrote.

Giroux said this morning he and Mayor J. Michael Pinkerton will soon meet with OEPA Director Craig W. Butler most likely in Sebring concerning lead and copper found in the municipal water system.

However, Giroux said the exact time of that meeting is uncertain.

Giroux said OEPA officials never called him to discuss the status of Bates, who Butler said was not properly performing his duties to protect public health and may have falsified reports.

Giroux said he learned about Butler's statements concerning Bates in the media. The OEPA announced Sunday night it is taking steps to revoke Bates' water treatment operator's license.

Butler said the state has opened an investigation of Bates and is seeking a U.S. EPA criminal investigation of Bates' actions.

"My main concern is to resolve whatever issues there are and make sure the public has quality water," Giroux said. "Sebring will do whatever it needs to do to make sure that happens. We will do whatever EPA recommends that we do."

Meanwhile, free distribution of cases of bottled water continue today at the Sebring Community Center, 305 W. Texas Ave., for the fourth consecutive day.

Schools remain closed in the area.

The water situation is expected to be a topic during tonight's village council meeting at 7 p.m.

Lead may cause serious health problems, especially for pregnant women, infants and children, the health department warned.

Pregnant and breastfeeding women, infants and children receiving water from the Sebring system should use bottled water for cooking, drinking and baby formula preparation, the health department said Friday.

Although the lead problem in Sebring water didn’t get significant public attention until Thursday, the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency web site shows the agency issued a drinking water advisory concerning the lead problem in Sebring’s public water supply Dec. 3.

That advisory states: “Children and pregnant women should use bottled water or water from a filtration system that has been certified by an independent testing organization to reduce or eliminate lead for cooking, drinking and baby formula preparation.”

On the same day the Ohio EPA cited Sebring for water supply violations, Giroux issued a precautionary advisory Thursday evening, urging pregnant women and children using that water system to stop drinking the tap water until further testing could be conducted.

Other residents were advised to reduce their potential lead exposure by running the water for 30 seconds to two minutes until it is noticeably colder, to flush out the lead before using the water.

At that time, Giroux announced that lead levels of 21 parts per billion were found in the water in seven of 40 homes tested in the distribution system, which serves 8,100 homes and businesses in the Sebring and Beloit area.

The federal action level for lead, which can be irreversibly toxic to the neurological systems of children, is 15 parts per billion.

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