Ohio EPA Fires Employees After They Let Lead Into This Town’s Water

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Chris White Tech Reporter
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The Ohio Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) fired two employees and demoted another one after internal reviews following revelations that an Ohio town had high levels of lead in its water.

Ohio’s EPA director, Craig Butler, discovered Jan. 21 that the small town of Sebring failed to notify its citizens of dangerously high lead levels in a select number of neighborhoods. The town also failed to tell the state’s EPA regulators about it until after the fact.

After conducting a slew of tests after the discovery, the EPA found that 121 of the 123 samples were below the federal government’s allowable level for drinking. The tests showed seven homes in Sebring had lead levels at 21 parts per billion — the EPA standard is 15 parts per billion.

Ohio EPA prohibited the town’s water treatment plant operator James Bates from operating any piece of equipment in the city’s water system and revoked his license.

The completed internal review pinned the failure on an Ohio EPA Central Office employee, who failed to send laboratory results from the Central Office to the EPA’s field office.

The Ohio EPA said the data was crucial to determining the lead-levels in Sebring.

The employee has since been fired for nonperformance, as was the employee’s manager for not properly managing an employee with a poor performance record, the Ohio EPA said.

A manager in Ohio EPA’s Northeast District Office was demoted for not telling the Agency’s director sooner that the district found high levels of lead in the town’s water. The Agency said the employee should’ve brought the issue up as soon as it became clear the town was dragging its feet on the water review.

Ohio EPA ‘s decision to act quickly on the matter comes a week after unearthed emails indicate the EPA knew water in Flint was laced with lead as early as 2015, but chose to let citizens drink it anyway.

The program manager for EPA’s Drinking Water State Revolving Fund in Michigan, Jennifer Crooks, said in the emails that the EPA knew there were no corrosive controls in Flint’s water pipes in 2014 — it is widely believed that had controls been administered, the lead water scandal could have been avoided.

“Since Flint has lead service lines, we understand some citizen-requested lead sampling is exceeding the Action Level, and the source of drinking water will be changing again in 2016, so to start a Corrosion Control Study now doesn’t make sense,” Crooks wrote in the email exchanges.

She continued: “The idea to ask Flint to simply add phosphate may be premature; there are many other issues and factors that must be taken into account which would require a comprehensive look at the water quality and the system before any treatment recommendations can/should be made.”

Of the more than 900 water samples tested by the Ohio EPA, the Agency said only 40 were above the allowable limit — which suggests the EPA may have been trying to avoid another Flint scandal.

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