The Ohio General Assembly acted responsibly and speedily this week in unanimously adopting legislation that inserts clear and necessary standards into state law for prompt community notification of lead or other impurities in our drinking water.
The Senate on Wednesday passed House Bill 512, which ensures implementation of its provisions supported by the administration of Gov. John Kasich will not be delayed until after the long summer legislative recess.
The bill tightens requirements for testing for and notification of lead in water from public systems. Residents and other users would have to be informed within two days if lead and copper levels topped allowed thresholds. The current deadline is an overly generous 30 days.
Those of us in the Mahoning Valley will recall that the reforms grew out of a public-health dilemma in the village of Sebring, where a series of unconscionable games of “Who’s on First” between village and state officials delayed notification for months of excessive levels of lead in that community’s water system last fall and this winter.
It is our hope that all of the elements of the new law are rigidly followed and enforced so its primary objective can be met: Ohioans will never again face the irresponsible bumbling and in- action among state and local leaders that played out in Sebring for far too long.
The measure, however, must not be viewed as the last legislative stop en route to maximum water-quality protection. Rather, it should serve as only the first leg of a more strategic and structural journey toward improving drinking-water and waste-water treatment systems throughout the state.
After all, the problems that led to elevated lead levels in drinking water in Sebring and Flint, Mich., clearly are not isolated and their overriding cause is generally no great mystery. Many result from a network of aging lead in pipes and a history of gross negligence of this nation’s aging and deteriorating underground pipelines.
SCOPE OF THE CHALLENGE
The American Society for Civil Engineers has rated most of America’s drinking-water infrastructure as “nearing the end of its useful life” and replacement of the nation’s pipelines – 98 percent contain lead – would cost more than $1 trillion.
Clearly, that’s a tall order but one that local, state and federal leaders mustn’t ignore. For his part, state Rep. John Boccieri of Poland, D-59th, has been a champion for Sebring residents and a vocal advocate for more broad-based reforms. He had fought unsuccessfully this spring to toughen House Bill 512 with stronger provisions to ensure the public’s right to know about impurities in their drinking water is not compromised. He should revisit them when the Legislature reconvenes this fall.
Beyond Columbus, Congress, too, should keep a close watch over the purity of the nation’s drinking water. To his credit, U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio, last month introduced the Clean Water Affordability Act to provide help to communities to update outdated sewer systems.
Clearly, the work ahead will be fraught with challenges, but refusing to face them must never be an option. In Flint and in Sebring, we’ve seen up close the dreadful and unacceptable impact of neglect.