In a conference call with reporters Wednesday, Ohio Sen. Sherrod Brown said Ohio state officials, especially Gov. John Kasich who’s off in New Hampshire running for president, need to explain what they knew about lead levels in the water system of Sebring, Ohio, and when they knew it.
Sen. Brown told reporters on the call that he would introduce a bill that would require the U.S. EPA to notify the public of dangerous lead levels in their water within 15 days, and to put a cleanup plan into place within six months. It would also require the state EPA to provide water customers with an annual report on the condition of local water supplies, and to post the information online in an easy-to-find place.
Residents of Sebring [ 4,420 at the 2010 census] in Mahoning County were not warned about the high levels of lead in their drinking water until Jan. 21, but Sen. Brown says its his understanding from talking with local officials that state officials may have known about this as early as last August that high levels of lead had been found in Sebring’s water system. warn residents of the Mahoning County village.
On the campaign trail in New Hampshire, Gov. John Kasich said his administration went beyond what it was required to do and claimed he’s on top of it. Asked to comment on Gov. Kasich’s statements with respect to Sebring that “We’re on top of it and things are fine,” Ohio’s senior U.S. Senator said, “We don’t know much for sure yet.”
“I’m always a bit skeptical of what this state government has done,” he said. “I don’t know why they would not have spoken out” about it.
Sen. Brown said he’s talked with people who understand the Ohio E.P.A knew about the problem as early last August. He also said it’s clear that Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder failed on the emergency situation in Flint, Michigan, where high levels of lead in the city’s water system could have been prevented had a power emergency manager chose to stay with the safe water source instead of switching to the Flint River to save money.
Mr. Brown said he’s been speaking with the Center For Disease Control [CDC] because preserving the health and safety of children is a top priority. The senator’s office has contacted the CDC and secured a commitment that the agency will be on hand to provide technical assistance and support to help families in Sebring get tested and access resources that are available.
“No parent should ever have to worry that the water coming out of their faucets might be poisoning their children,” Sen. Brown said Wednesday. According to Sen. Brown, the current law gives the state EPA 18 months to enact a corrosion control plan to clean up lead from toxic water supplies.
“Certainly, the governor is going to have to respond if the EPA knew this and withheld it from the people,” Sen. Brown said.
Meanwhile, reports in Ohio say that two Democratic legislators, State Rep. John Boccieri and State Sen. Joe Schiavoni, know of a state-certified private laboratory report that found high levels of lead in Sebring’s water system.
On Thursday in Washington, Senate Democrats filibustered a bipartisan energy bill after Republicans refused to include $300 million in federal aid for Michigan residents afflicted by lead-tainted water in Flint, the Washington Times reported.
Sen. Brown’s bill will:
· Ensure families are alerted right away when there is a problem by directing the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to automatically alert the public if the state or local agency responsible fails to do so in 15 days. Currently, local and state officials are responsible for notifying the public, which they failed to do in a timely manner in the cases of Sebring and Flint;
· Require communities to have a plan in place to fix the problem within six months. The current requirement is up to 18 months;
· Require there to be a plan in place to make sure communities have access to clean, safe water in the meantime; and
· Improve transparency by requiring the EPA to make annual state water quality reports available online in one, easy to use place.
Brown released a resource guide for families to learn more about lead poisoning and testing resources around Ohio, summarizing information from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the Ohio Department of Health.