Ohioans would have to be notified within two days of unacceptable lead levels in their drinking water, under a proposal Gov. John Kasich plans to submit to state lawmakers.
The proposed changes come months after the village of Sebring failed to notify its residents within 30 days of high lead levels in the water there. The water was tested in September 2015, but residents weren’t notified until Jan. 21.
The Ohio Environmental Protection Agency was slow to take control of the situation and pointed to federal water quality rules giving communities months to act before the state agency could step in.
The Ohio EPA is proposing several changes that would make Ohio law stronger than federal law:
- Reducing the time frame for when water systems must notify residents of high lead levels from 30 days to two days.
- Cut in half the time water systems have to educate consumers of the dangers of drinking the water from 60 days to 30 days.
- Use state grant and loan programs to update plumbing in Ohio schools, replace lead service lines and improve water treatment plants.
- Lower the “lead-free” definition of how much lead can be in plumbing from 8 percent to 0.25 percent — same as federal law.
“By pursuing improvements at the federal level while at the same time strengthening standards for state action, we can better help our communities safeguard their drinking water from lead,” the Kasich administration proposal said.
The reforms are being proposed as part of Kasich’s off-year budget bill.
Previous coverage: How the Sebring water crisis differed from the Flint water crisis
Lead-tainted drinking water in Flint, Michigan developed into a political scandal that has some residents calling for the resignation of the state’s governor, Rick Snyder. But lead-tainted drinking water in Sebring, Ohio caused little political fallout for Ohio Gov. John Kasich, even as he takes his presidential campaigns in Michigan.
Ohio Environmental Council Executive Director Heather Taylor-Miesle said the reforms will help ensure every Ohioan has access to safe drinking water.
“We’ve seen what happened in Sebring, Ohio. Families were left wondering whether their children were exposed to lead and an entire community found itself wondering how to cope with a crisis that could have been prevented,” Taylor-Miesle said in a statement.
Democrat Sen. Sherrod Brown in February introduced a bill to shorten the notification window to 15 days and require an improvement plan within six months. Brown criticized the Ohio EPA for keeping people “in the dark” about their water quality.
Brown issued a statement Thursday supporting the proposal.
“It’s simple — if there are dangerous levels of lead in drinking water, families have the right to know as soon as possible,” Brown said. “I’m pleased to see the state looking at what went wrong in Sebring and making adjustments, and I will continue pushing my legislation to strengthen accountability in the federal law as well.”
The proposed regulations earned praise from the leading Democrat in the Ohio Senate, Joe Schiavoni. Schiavoni said two bills he introduced earlier this year share several of the same initiatives as Kasich’s proposal.
“We are eager to work to ensure that, in the future, no Ohioans or their communities are forced to face the difficulties we have been seeing in Sebring,” he said in a statement.
Jackie Borchardt, cleveland.com, March 31, 2016 at 10:15 AM, updated March 31, 2016 at 4:11 PM
Gov. John Kasich proposes water quality reforms to protect against lead