As all eyes are on the water contamination crisis plaguing Flint, Michigan, another U.S. city is grappling with similar questions about whether its public officials ignored warning signs suggesting its tap water wasn’t safe to drink.
It’s been two months since the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency first identified excessive levels of lead in the town of Sebring’s public water system. However, despite the EPA’s requirements to inform the public by the end of November, Sebring residents were only told of the contamination last week.
Here's the Ohio EPA telling Sebring about lead problems (Dec 3). Residents weren't told for more than a month after pic.twitter.com/D8dTZfKu28
— Vince Grzegorek (@vincethepolack) January 25, 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,” Ohio EPA Director Craig Butler told the Daily Mail.
Coming just days after President Barack Obama declared a state of emergency in Flint — where residents have been exposed to toxic levels of lead in their own water system — this news isn’t being taken lightly by Ohio officials. On Monday, the state ordered the suspension of Sebring Water Superintendent Jim Bates amid a criminal investigation into claims that he may have falsified reports on the city’s lead levels.
Following the delayed January 21st alert of the heightened lead levels, the city closed all public schools on Friday and Monday — and just announced they’ll remained closed Tuesday. School officials say they are waiting for a Tuesday morning report from the EPA on the current levels of lead in the city water system, taken from a water sample last week. Bottles of uncontaminated water are currently being delivered and dispersed at the town community center.
Free water being distributed at Sebring Community Center due to elevated lead levels for Sebring customers. pic.twitter.com/AxX7QYnrfy
— Gayle Blair (@GBlair_AR) January 23, 2016
“My main concern is to resolve whatever issues there are and make sure the public has quality water,” City Manager Richard Giroux told the Youngstown Vindicator on Monday. “Sebring will do whatever it needs to do to make sure that happens. We will do whatever EPA recommends that we do.”