Bottled-water distribution continues today and Friday
By Peter H. Milliken
The Ohio Environmental Protection Agency has established a stringent set of compliance requirements and deadlines for the village water-supply system after village officials failed until last week to report to the general public high lead levels recorded at water taps last summer.
Without being specific, the agency director also warned the village manager of potential escalating consequences for noncompliance.
“Your prompt attention to this matter is essential for protection of public health” of Sebring drinking-water customers, Craig W. Butler, OEPA director, wrote to village Manager Richard Giroux last Thursday.
“Failure to complete these tasks within the time frames indicated will result in escalation and evaluation of the agency’s enforcement options,” Butler warned Giroux.
“While the village has a safe water source [the Mahoning River headwaters], and is producing clean drinking water, it is apparent from your recent tests that lead from residential piping is impacting the drinking water of certain homes,” Butler told Giroux.
OHIO EPA ORDERS
Butler ordered Giroux to:
Re-sample previous locations with elevated lead levels.
Offer water testing for lead to all customers requesting it.
Immediately resume use of caustic soda at the treatment plant to make the water less corrosive, which the village already has done, and submit to OEPA an acceptable plan to adjust water treatment “to reduce the leaching of lead from residential piping.”
Measure the water’s corrosivity daily and report test results to OEPA weekly.
“Hire a professional engineer to evaluate short-term treatment adjustments to reduce corrosivity and lead leaching from residential piping,” consider alkalinity and pH adjustment, calcium adjustment and orthophosphate addition, and submit evaluation findings to OEPA by Friday.
Hire a professional engineer to evaluate long-term treatment adjustments.
Submit to the state agency a plan and schedule for completion of a corrosion control study by Feb. 15.
The letter also said the state agency is evaluating low-cost financing options to complete that study and long-term water supply infrastructure improvements.
Giroux wasted no time in preparing to meet the state agency’s requirements and deadlines.
Giroux met with Christopher Harshman, acting village water-treatment superintendent, and engineers from W.E. Quicksall & Associates of New Philadelphia on Tuesday at village hall to discuss these matters.
Lead isn’t the only concern with regard to the Sebring water supply.
Based on what he saw in his June 25 and July 24 inspections of the Sebring water-treatment plant, Chris Maslo, an OEPA drinking and ground water specialist, made several observations concerning other issues:
Security fencing failed to enclose the entire treatment works.
A septic system lay within the drinking water treatment plant fence, having been placed there after a system outside the fence failed.
The water-supply system lacked a source water protection plan and a backup water source.
The village’s water rate structure generated insufficient revenue to cover current costs. (Billing and maintenance costs were covered by the village’s general fund.)
The computer recording turbidity (a measure of water cloudiness) had crashed June 6, and none of the required turbidity readings were taken for 19 days thereafter until the June 25 inspection, when plant operators began manually reading and recording turbidity every four hours.
While village officials were scrambling to meet OEPA requirements, schools reopened Wednesday after favorable lead test results were reported.
But Toni Viscounte, Sebring schools superintendent, decided to err on the side of caution.
Any wash basin or drinking fountain in the Sebring schools that tested over 5 parts per billion of lead has had its water supply shut off and it has been covered with plastic bags as a precaution, she announced. The federal lead action level is 15ppb.
Sebring schools had been closed Friday, Monday and Tuesday because of excessive lead found in local water taps.
The OEPA tested every local school water source fixture on the Sebring public water system for lead over the weekend, finding only two of 123 water samples, both from Sebring high- school drinking fountains, over15 ppb.
Bottled water is being used for cafeteria cooking, Viscounte added.
“Even though our cafeteria tested fine, our parents are still a little bit nervous,” Viscounte said.
Viscounte said she’s seeking plumbers willing to donate their time to remove drinking fountains from school walls to enable lead tests on the plumbing leading to them.
There are no plumbers on the Sebring schools staff.
Volunteering plumbers are asked to call 330-938-6165.
No lead was found in any water at the West Branch middle and high schools, which also reopened Wednesday.
At the West Branch schools, all water fountains, cafeteria water sources, and wash basins were operational Wednesday, reported Scott R. Weingart, schools superintendent.
“We are running water as we normally do,” he said. “I’m just very relieved that it’s business as usual.”
The OEPA issued no new orders Wednesday, said Heidi Griesmer, its deputy director of communications.
“Right now, we are focused on getting relief to the homes that are affected and ensuring that the village is complying with the order that we gave them to provide either bottled water or filtration systems to affected homes with elevated lead levels,” she added.
After a coordinating meeting of state, county and local officials at village hall on Wednesday, Giroux announced that bottled-water distribution will continue from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. today and Friday at the Sebring Community Center, 305 W. Texas Ave., for children under age 6 and pregnant women who are Sebring water customers.
Each qualifying person will get one gallon of water per person per day, not to exceed a six-day supply.
The Mahoning County Board of Health announced free lead testing for water samples submitted by Sebring water customers, who may pick up sample collection bottles between 8 a.m. and 5 p.m., Monday through Friday, at village hall, 135 E. Ohio Ave.
The bottles come with detailed instructions on how to collect samples; and the filled bottles must be dropped off at village hall no later than 10 a.m. Mondays or Wednesdays, with results being emailed to residents and submitted on paper to village officials.
Those without email addresses may pick up paper copies of their results at village hall.
The health department also announced that a second free blood lead screening clinic will take place from 3:30 to 6:30 p.m. Monday at B.L. Miller School, 506 W. Virginia Ave., Sebring, for children from birth to age 6 and for pregnant or breastfeeding women who are Sebring water customers.
If the screening performed by a finger stick shows an elevated blood lead level, follow-up testing by a physician will be required.