Valley's state reps urge more action on lead-contamination issues

By Peter H. Milliken


State Reps. John Boccieri and Michelle Lepore-Hagan are advocating more coordination and support for local communities on lead-contamination issues.

The legislators made their comments at a Thursday news conference in the Mahoning County Courthouse.

“While we have made improvements to the timely notification [of people whose water is lead-contaminated], there still is much more work that we need to do around the state and in our community,” said Boccieri, of Poland, D-59th.

“There are still 75 water [contamination] advisories around the state of Ohio,” nine of them related to lead, he said.

“There needs to be some sort of standardization across the board,” Boccieri said, noting the maximum lead tolerance in drinking water is 5 parts per billion in schools, but 15 ppb in homes.

“There is a lack of coordination and resources given from the state to our local communities that we seek improvement on,” he said. “We need to pass legislation that speaks to better coordination.”

Heidi Griesmer, deputy director of communication for the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency, however, said the public is better protected than ever from lead-contamination threats.

“Because of recent legislative reforms championed by the [Gov. John] Kasich administration, our communities are being protected like never before from lead in drinking water,” Griesmer said.

“Ohio’s new law [House Bill 512] requires water systems to provide immediate information about any lead sampling to homeowners and local health departments, and the process is working,” she added.

The law, passed last year, requires that whenever elevated lead levels are detected in drinking water, notification must be made by the water supplier to that household and the local health department within 48 hours, as opposed to the previous 30-day notification requirement.

In addition, the Ohio EPA enacted an agency rule last December requiring public water systems to coordinate with local emergency management agencies any time communitywide notifications are made concerning water contamination or service disruptions, she said.

“Our local health districts cannot fulfill their obligation to complete [follow-up on] lead-related cases without proper funding from our state government,” said Lepore-Hagan, of Youngstown, D-58th.

“The state budget is an opportunity to invest in our local communities and address this urgent concern,” she said.

It’s easier for local health departments to follow up on children with elevated lead levels than for state officials to do that, said Patricia Sweeney, the county’s health commissioner.

“You have a family that’s renting, and they’re transient, and you find a blood-lead level that’s elevated. It’s an easier process for locals to be able to do that [follow-up] than to send somebody from Columbus to try to do that who doesn’t know the community,” she said.

Russ Kennedy, communications director at the Ohio Department of Health, however, called attention to a 2013 email to ODH from Joseph Diorio, director of the community health division at the county health department, saying, without explanation, the county department was relinquishing its lead-investigation authority to the state.

“If, at any point, the [county] board of health chooses to regain that authority, we would welcome the discussion,” Kennedy said.

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