Sebring schools reopen Wednesday

Sebring schools reopen tomorrow after water scare
Water samples in Sebring, OH being tested. (Source: WKBN)
Water samples in Sebring, OH being tested. (Source: WKBN)

CLEVELAND, OH (WOIO) - Schools in Sebring in Mahoning County have been closed since Friday after lead-tainted water showed up in samples. Schools will reopen Wednesday.

Two fountains at the high school in Sebring are above the EPA recommended limit. These two fountains have been unplugged, water has been shut off, and they are now unusable.

Students are permitted to bring in their own bottled water and hand sanitizer.

Extensive water samples taken by Ohio EPA Sunday evening at three local schools near Sebring show that 121 of the 123 samples are below the federal allowable level, and those that were above the federal allowable level are contained to drinking water fountains, not the incoming water supply to the building.

Some older drinking water fountains, some of which have been recalled, have been shown to be problematic due to internal parts containing lead.

Ohio EPA has provided this information to the Mahoning County director of public health and the superintendent of schools so they can determine when schools will open and take any precautionary measures that may be appropriate.

Ohio EPA conducted the additional tests at every point of contact with water in the schools (drinking water fountains, spigots, food preparation sinks) after results on Sunday showed that a drinking fountain at McKinley Junior/Senior High tested higher than the allowable level and two tests at BL Elementary School had two tests with lead detected (but below the federal requirement).

  • West Branch Middle School and Athletic Building: 52 tests had no detection of lead.
  • McKinley Junior/Senior High: 20 tests had no detection of lead, seven had levels below the federal allowable level, two were above the federal allowable level.
  • BL Elementary School: 27 tests had no detection of lead, 15 had levels below the federal allowable level.

Ohio EPA has been working with the village to make adjustments to its water system chemistry to minimize lead from leaching into the water from residential piping. Water samples taken at 28 area homes over the weekend showed that 25 were below the federal guidelines. Twelve of the 15 tests conducted over the weekend at the schools were below detectable levels for lead. Tests conducted at the water treatment plant over the weekend confirmed there is no detectable lead leaving the water treatment.

The village of Sebring has a legal obligation to develop a plan to adjust its treatment and processes to minimize lead from leaching into the water from residential piping, as well as distributing information alerting the community to the risk from lead in water and to notify homeowners of the test results for their homes. In addition, Ohio EPA is requiring the village to continue to offer testing of residential water, provide bottled water or filtration systems to homes where results are over the federal allowable level and work with the county to provide health screening for residents. To assist the village, Ohio EPA is providing up to $25,000 in financial assistance to the village to provide filtration systems.

After learning the village had failed to properly notify its customers and of its repeated failure to provide timely and accurate information to the department's field office, Ohio EPA Director Craig W. Butler issued a notice of violation to the village on Jan. 21 requiring that they notify their customers immediately.

Ohio EPA and other agencies within state government also quickly responded by:

  • Deploying a team to assist in collecting 167 water samples in the area;
  • Shipping 152 pallets of water to the area to be available to
  • Delivering lead test kits to Mahoning County Health Department to enable testing of at-risk populations; and
  • Establishing a screening clinic at BL Miller School to test individuals for potential lead exposure.

Ohio EPA issued three orders yesterday.

The first two are emergency orders prohibiting Jim Bates, the current village water treatment operator, from operating the Sebring water treatment plant or any other water treatment plant. The third is a proposed revocation of Bates' operator's license for failing to properly perform his duties to protect public health.

The agency also has opened an investigation as it has reason to suspect the operator falsified reports.

The village is still required to complete all immediate, short-term, and long-term actions required by the Ohio EPA Director on Jan. 21 and federal and state law to adjust water chemistry, provide the public with information and conduct additional testing to confirm if these changes remain in effect.

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