Rep. Boccieri Puts Forward Stronger Drinking Water Notification Standards To Protect Public Health
Says EPA accepting responsibility is a step in the right direction to correct notification process, puts forward legislation to prevent water crisis repeat
February 01, 2016
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Rep. John Boccieri talks to WKBN about new proposal for stronger water testing

State Rep. John Boccieri (D-Poland) today announced legislation to establish clear standards for water testing and public notification procedures in cases of lead contamination. The legislation comes in the midst of the Sebring water crisis, in which records have revealed that the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) failed to notify residents of Sebring, Ohio that area water had higher-than-normal levels of lead for almost five months.

“The Ohio EPA shares a legal and moral responsibility to notify citizens when dangerous levels of lead are found in their water,” Rep. Boccieri said. “This legislation will prevent communities from being kept in the dark regarding water contamination by requiring the proper authorities to notify citizens in a timely matter, not months after the fact.”

The bill will give public water systems 30 days to notify the public of test results that show levels of lead above the federal standard of 15 ppb. If no such notification occurs, the bill requires the EPA director to act by the end of the next business day to direct the local board of health to notify the public of the contamination. The local board then has 15 days to perform that notification. Both the EPA director and local boards of health will be subject to civil and criminal penalties should they fail to abide by the timeline spelled out in the bill.

Under the bill, for which Boccieri is seeking support from House lawmakers, local boards of health will be required to conduct tests on public waters systems using funding from the water authority. Assigning water testing responsibility to local boards of health, which already test private water systems, ensures that this important responsibility falls on an entity that has a proven capability and capacity to conduct such monitoring. The bill also establishes biannual training and license renewal requirements regarding lead contamination procedures for local water authorities. 

Meanwhile, the Sebring community is left with unanswered questions as to how the crisis occurred and who will be held responsible. Late Friday, news outlets reported that the Ohio EPA suspended two key employees who had knowledge of water contamination in Sebring.

“Our public agencies that are tasked with protecting the environment and our communities must be held accountable when they fail to fulfill their mission. Suspending employees who failed to protect public health is a good first step toward turning responsibility in to action,” said Boccieri. “But the EPA’s move doesn’t answer many of the questions that still remain.”

Among those questions is why the EPA claims it was first notified of the test results in late fall when the state-certified vendor has provided written documentation proving that it sent the first results to the EPA on August 21.

Rep. Boccieri recently sent a letter to Speaker of the House Cliff Rosenberger requesting that the House Energy and Natural Resources Committee subpoena EPA Director Craig Butler on the Sebring water crisis. The director has failed to provide answers to the Sebring community and legislators’ repeated questions regarding when the agency first knew of the test results and why they waited to respond. Since the agency first informed legislators and the public of the contamination on January 22, Rep. Boccieri has written multiple letters to Director Butler requesting more information and has asked him to appear before the public to take questions about the crisis.

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