Ohio Gov. John Kasich was quick to criticize Michigan’s handling of Flint’s water crisis, but the Republican presidential candidate’s state is also facing problems with lead in drinking water.
“You have to be on top of it right away,” Kasich told moderators during Thursday night’s presidential debate. “I know people are being held accountable, but the fact is every single engine of government has to move when you see a crisis like that.”
“I’ve had many situations in the state of Ohio where we’ve had to move, whether it’s storms, whether it was a horrible school shooting,” he added. “There are many crises that come. The water crisis in Toledo. You’ve got to be on top of it and go the extra mile. You have to work with local communities and the federal government. Because you realize that people are depending on you.”
Kasich seemed to gloss over potential lead problems in the small town of Sebring, Ohio. In this case Ohio environmental regulators knew for months there was some lead in the town’s drinking water but did nothing to warn the public.
Instead, regulators repeatedly demanded the Sebring Water Treatment Plant notify customers of elevated levels of lead in some school drinking fountains, according to The Ohio Dispatch. No warnings were issued, and at least one state lawmaker has called for Ohio’s top environmental official to resign.
As it turns out, Sebring water plant officials knew about elevated levels in the water since June when they tested some homes in the community. Local officials didn’t notify those homes of lead risks until December, and state regulators didn’t publicly notify residents until Jan. 21.
News about Sebring’s lead woes have been echoed by liberal news outlets. Reporters have criticized Kasich for speaking so boldly about how he would act in Flint when a similar problem could be occurring in his own state.
The Kasich administration’s slow response has been compared to the slow response of Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder. Michigan regulators applied the incorrect chemical treatment to water from the Flint River which caused lead to leach from pipes into people’s drinking water.
Snyder and President Barack Obama have issued emergency orders in Flint, and the president has promised $80 million in aid to Michigan to help get lead out of people’s drinking water. The regional federal EPA administrator also resigned after news surfaced that the agency knew about lead problems for months without notifying the public.
Flint’s water crisis stemmed from the city switching its water supply from Lake Huron to the Flint River — a temporary measure meant to cut costs.
Flint River water was more corrosive than Lake Huron, but it was still fit to drink. The problem came when state regulators applied the wrong chemical treatment to keep it from corroding the lead pipes.
Federal EPA officials learned about the lead leaching as early as February 2015, but did nothing to notify the public until October when state officials finally admitted they were using the wrong kinds of testing and treatments for Flint River water.
EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy, however, defended the agency’s actions in Flint, despite her employees sitting on their hands for months while they supposedly waited for a legal opinion on how they should proceed.
“EPA did its job but clearly the outcome was not what anyone would have wanted,” McCarthy told reporters earlier this month.
As for Sebring, water treatment officials knew there were elevated levels of lead in some homes in June 2015, but the state did not find out until at least October. Still, state regulators did not notify the public about lead concerns until January 2016.
“It has become apparent that our field office was too patient in dealing with the village of Sebring’s ‘cat and mouse’ game and should have had closer scrutiny on the water system meeting its deadlines,” the Ohio EPA admitted in a recent statement.
The Sebring Water superintendent has been put on administrative leave by the EPA which says he falsified documents and is pushing for a criminal investigation into the matter.
Sebring’s schools have been shut down as well after recent tests showed elevated lead levels in two of 123 samples from drinking fountains.
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