State Rep. John Boccieri (D-Poland) today commented on the passage of House Bill (HB) 512, the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)’s mid-biennium review legislation, saying the bill was a step in the right direction but that more work is needed to strengthen Ohio’s public notification system for lead-contaminated water.

The Poland lawmaker offered an amendment on the House floor to allow local health departments, local Emergency Management Agencies (EMAs) and water systems to create a joint response plan for public notification of contaminated water, but the measure was rejected by the GOP majority.

“Local coordination makes sense,” said Boccieri. “The reason it took six months to notify residents after test results showed lead in the water is that the coordination process between the Ohio EPA and local water operators is incredibly complicated, vague and bureaucratic.”

Boccieri proposed a coordinated, inter-agency rapid response plan he believed would be critical to effectively responding to a public health crisis. According to Boccieri, allowing local agencies to create joint response plans with approval from EPA would help augment the public notification process in cases of lead-contaminated drinking water. The Emergency Management Association of Ohio and the Ohio Health Boards Association voted earlier this week to support Boccieri’s proposed coordinated effort.

The passage of HB 512 follows the recent Sebring water crisis, in which records revealed that the EPA failed to notify residents of Sebring that area-water had higher than normal levels of lead for nearly six months.

“Even with the House’s passage of this bill, the EPA continues to deflect opportunities to codify safer notification requirements that are equal to local water authorities’,” added Boccieri. “The agency is asking our local water operators to respond to a public health crisis in two days, but giving the EPA director an additional 10 days to respond. That is inconsistent.”

The Poland lawmaker also previously attempted to strengthen HB 512 during the committee process through efforts to include a definition of what constitutes a public health crisis and timely notification respectively. Although those amendments were tabled along party lines, Boccieri was able to help increase lead training requirements for local water operators and bring school water fountains up to U.S. standards.

HB 512 now goes to the Senate for further consideration.

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