Justice

Sebring, Ohio, Could be the Next Flint, Michigan

January 26th 2016

By:
Alex Mierjeski

Flint, Michigan is apparently not the only place in the United States currently facing a potential public health threat because of water contamination and alleged lax government oversight.

Late last week, officials in the small village town of Sebring, Ohio canceled classes, and issued a health advisory for children and pregnant women. The advisory asked them not to consume tap water, after high levels of lead and copper — exceeding federal safety standards — were found in homes connected to a local system. The system serves about 8,100 customers in Mahoning County, the Associated Press reported.

On Monday, Sebring Water Superintendent Jim Bates had his operator's license suspended by the state, WKBN reported. The state's Environmental Protection Agency also opened a criminal investigation into whether or not he falsified lead level reports.

National attention has been focused on Flint, Michigan, where residents continue to deal with the effects of a months-long problem with high lead levels in its water — a problem residents say is partially the fault of government mishandling.

flint-brown-water

Similarly in Sebring, documents from the state's EPA show that officials there knew about contamination problems as early as September of 2015, even though it was publicly announced just last week, the Cleveland Scene reports.

Related: US Cities Are Underreporting Heavy Metals in Their Water Supply

"I would not recommend any additional sampling at this time as it appears you have a corrosion control problem based upon the first 30 samples collected," reads a September email from Chris Maslo, an environmental specialist with Ohio's EPA, obtained by WKBN.

An Ohio EPA spokesperson did not return ATTN:'s request for comment Tuesday morning.

Many of the homes whose water contained elevated levels of heavy metals were older with older pipes that might be corroded by water that is more acidic than usual. In Flint, corrosive water eroded the city's aging pipes, leeching contaminants into residents' water.

WKBN reported that the health advisory for Sebring will not be lifted until two subsequent tests six months apart turn up passable results. Until then, local officials are required to provide funding for bottled water, filters, and health screenings.

"My main concern is to resolve whatever issues there are and make sure the public has quality water," Sebring city manager Richard Giroux said. "Sebring will do whatever it needs to do to make sure that happens. We will do whatever the EPA recommends that we do."