Boccieri Calls For Local Control To Be Added To EPA Lead Contamination Overhaul
Lawmaker applauds proposed changes but says local health boards better equipped for water testing

State Rep. John Boccieri (D-Poland) today applauded the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)’s announcement that its mid-year corrections bill will address lead contamination prevention efforts, but pointed out that the agency could do more to prevent privatization of the water testing process.

The EPA released a fact sheet this morning declaring that, among other things, it would propose shortening timelines for public notification and receipt of testing results, making low-interest loans available for public water systems to improve corrosion control and infrastructure, and bringing Ohio’s lead content standards for pipes into compliance with the lower federal limit. Boccieri’s bill, House Bill (HB) 468, would also mandate a 30-day public notification timeline, but it places water testing authority in the hands of local boards of health.

“The process failed at the connection between the private state-certified vendor and the EPA,” Boccieri said, referring to the lead crisis that unfolded in Sebring, Ohio earlier this year. “The state vendor submitted Sebring’s water test results to the EPA on August 21, 2015, but the EPA didn't exercise its legal and moral obligation to notify the public until six months later. That length of time is just too long for a public health crisis.”

Under Boccieri's bill, water systems must have their water testing results compiled by the local county boards of health since these boards already test private water sources for lead. The local boards of health not only have robust testing processes in place, but also are the front line communication link to local residents on matters of public health. 

“Having a public health notification process rest with the water authority or the state EPA creates too many layers in which a fumble can occur,” Boccieri added. “It makes more sense to have testing and notification responsibility fall under county boards of health.”

Boccieri also called on his colleagues to support the EPA’s proposals, noting that Statehouse Republicans punted twice on bringing lead limits in line with federal standards. Governor John Kasich included changing the eight-percent state “lead free” standard to the federal quarter-percent limit in both his 2014 and 2015 budgets, but Republicans rejected the provision both times.

Boccieri emphasized that the current active drinking water advisories in the state, eight of which are lead, make water contamination an even more urgent and critical issue to tackle. The tracker on The Ohio Environmental Protection Agency’s website reports that a total of 72 public water systems with active public health advisories.

“Enforcement of the Safe Drinking Water Act is important and Ohio is out of compliance,” Boccieri noted. “It's time we address our public health crisis head on.”

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