State Rep. John Boccieri (D-Poland) today responded to the news that the former operator of Sebring’s public water system, James Bates, was served with three criminal charges for his role in the village’s lead contamination crisis earlier this year. 

“I'm aware of compliance issues at the local level, but I still feel strongly that accountability for public safety, as it relates to lead in our drinking water, is a shared responsibility with the state,” Rep. Boccieri said.  

Rep. Boccieri attempted to amend House Bill 512, legislation regarding water testing standards that passed the General Assembly earlier this year, with several provisions that would have applied the same criminal and civil penalties for public notification violations to the Director of the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). Unfortunately, none of the amendments ultimately became part of the bill. 

Back in the 1970s, the state legislature hinted at the idea of shared responsibility when it enacted laws suggesting the EPA director may notify the public during a crisis when the water authority fails to, or there is some negligence on behalf of the water operator. Despite the fact that his amendments did not pass, Rep. Boccieri is pleased about the debate that occurred on the issue. 

“The timeline still doesn’t sit well with me because the Ohio EPA knew there was a crisis in August of 2015, but didn’t take action until January of 2016,” said Rep. Boccieri. “Although several state EPA workers lost their jobs, if state law applied the same civil and criminal penalties to these workers who share responsibility to notify the public during a public health crisis, I believe a more timely notification would have occurred.” 

The charges against Bates include two counts of recklessly failing to provide timely notice of individual sampling results to residents and one count of recklessly failing to provide timely system-wide public education. Both are unclassified misdemeanors. 

Under state law, individual water tap results should be delivered to residents within 30 days and system-wide notification should occur within 60 days. Village residents were first informed of high levels of lead in Sebring’s water system in late January of this year, while the first test results were received in August of 2015. 

Attorney General Mike DeWine and Ohio Environmental Protection Agency Director Craig Butler announced that the charges were filed in Mahoning County earlier today. 

Rep. Boccieri voted for HB 512, legislation that was signed by Governor Kasich June 9, establishing stricter statewide standards for lead and copper testing and public notification requirements in cases of lead contamination.  

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