OEPA director addresses drinking-water notifications, proposed budget cuts in Howland

By Ed Runyan



The 2016 Ohio legislation that expedited public notifications about lead-contaminated drinking water, and proposed budget cuts at the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency were among topics covered when Ohio EPA Director Craig Butler visited Howland Thursday.

Butler said the Ohio legislation, House Bill 512, prompted by the Flint, Mich., lead crisis and the Sebring water crisis, put Ohio “at the forefront in the entire country in how we implement the Safe Drinking Water Act relative to lead in drinking water.”

In fact, Butler said the OEPA has “also championed at the national level in working with the federal EPA in following our lead in how we do this.”

When an Ohio public water system exceeds the federal rules for lead in the drinking water, water systems now have two days to notify customers instead of 30.

It “tightens the time frame well beyond federal rules” Butler said.

Butler spoke at Leo’s Ristorante at a lunchon sponsored by the Youngstown-Regional Chamber of Commerce’s Government Affairs Council.

The state also “took $12 million and invested it to help schools replace drinking fountains and other lead based fixtures,” Butler said. “To date, we’ve made money available to every public and private school in the state to go in and do an assessment and see if they have lead drinking water lines in their school and then replace those in over 750 schools.”

H.B. 512 also set a deadline for public water systems to provide the OEPA and the public with a map showing any lead service lines in their water distribution system.

Lead pipes “are not dangerous in and of themselves.” But if a community has water that is corrosive, the pipes can cause lead to get into the drinking water, he said.

Flint is planning to replace about 16,000 lead and iron service lines in the next few years. Sebring added a chemical to its water to prevent its water from leaching lead from pipes.

The maps are viewable on the OEPA’s website so people can check for themselves whether they have a lead service line coming into their home “and take precautions that are pretty simple to make sure they are not exposed to lead,” Butler said.

There are actually some wooden water lines still left in Ohio that “are quite functional,” Butler said.

One audience member asked Butler why the maps in some cases don’t show with enough detail where the lead lines are.

Butler said most of the larger water departments did provide “street level” specificity. But the website also provides the phone numbers of the water departments so that people can call and ask for more information.

The 11.5 million Ohioans who have public water are fortunate that they generally don’t have to worry about whether their water is safe to drink, Butler said. “We take it for granted.”

“Public water system operators do it right day after day after day,” but “any water system can lose their source of water instantaneously,” he said.

It could happen because of a waterline break, lead in the drinking water, a harmful algae bloom like what occurred in Lake Erie near Toledo, a tanker truck on the highway losing hundreds of gallons of diesel fuel.

“It’s why we say contingency water planning is so important,” Butler said.

“Every one of of your public water system operators have contingency plans. At any given moment, things can change dramatically, and people who rely on us to provide safe drinking water could be without water.”

Butler said President Donald Trump’s budget proposal would cut 30 percent of the OEPA’s budget. He believes such cuts are possible, but he thinks it’s far too early to say how it will turn out.

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