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Sebring Lead Crisis: 11 More homes test positive, village cited

The Ohio Environmental Protection Agency has announced the latest water samples taken by the village of Sebring revealed elevated lead levels in the tap water of 11 homeowners who asked for their water to be tested. The state agency said that 34 of 698 samples taken in Sebring since January 21, 2016 have showed lead levels above the federal allowable level of 15 parts per billion.

EPA Cites Sebring for Failing to Warn Residents

On February 9, the Ohio EPA issued yet another Notice of Violation to the village for failure to communicate recent test results and guidance to homeowners and failing to submit its required weekly report on water chemistry.

“When EPA staff followed up this weekend to conduct cautionary testing on a few homes that tested above the federal allowable level, it became evident that the village had not notified these residents of their recent test results as quickly and thoroughly as they should have,” Ohio EPA Director Craig Butler said in a press release. “I expect the village to keep the public in mind and provide prompt information to its residents.”

Earlier this year, the Ohio EPA barred James V. Bates, the operator of the Sebring water treatment plant, from operating any water treatment system in Ohio and initiated steps to revoke his license. Amid accusations of negligence, the agency opened a formal investigation of Bates to determine if he endangered public health by falsifying reports. Bates has publically denied the allegations.

Lead: Flint and beyond

In the wake of widespread media coverage of Flint’s disastrous response to lead-tainted water, lead has garnered national attention. On February 9, a New York Times article discussed the pervasiveness of elevated lead levels in the tap water of communities across the country – highlighting the village of Sebring:

In Sebring, Ohio, routine laboratory tests last August found unsafe levels of lead in the town’s drinking water after workers stopped adding a chemical to keep lead water pipes from corroding. Five months passed before the city told pregnant women and children not to drink the water, and shut down taps and fountains in schools.

Due to corroding pipes, lead began to leach into Sebring tap water. The Department of Health offered free blood screening and confirmed that six people, including five children, had elevated lead levels. Although no safe blood lead level in children has been identified, according to the CDC, experts now use “a reference level of 5 micrograms per deciliter (μg/dL) to identify children with blood lead levels that are much higher than most children’s levels.”

EPA Warning: Lead is stored in the bones

Although most homes are now testing within allowable levels, for some Sebring residents, the damage has already been done. In a letter to Sebring residents, the state EPA offers this chilling warning:

Lead can cause serious health problems if too much enters your body from drinking water or other sources. It can cause damage to the brain and kidneys, and can interfere with the production of red blood cells that carry oxygen to all parts of your body. The greatest risk of lead exposure is to infants, young children, and pregnant women. Scientists have linked the effects of lead on the brain with lowered IQ in children. Adults with kidney problems and high blood pressure can be affected by low levels of lead more than healthy adults. Lead is stored in the bones, and it can be released later in life. During pregnancy, the child receives lead from the mother’s bones, which may affect brain development.

How long does lead stay in the body?

Lead can be absorbed by different parts of the body, where it remains for varying times:

  • 35 days in blood
  • 40 days in soft tissues
  • 3 to 4 years in trabecular bone (Also known as cancellous or spongy bone, trabecular bone is found at the ends of long bones, as well as in the pelvic bones, ribs, skull and the vertebrae in the spinal column.)
  • 16 to 20 years in cortical bone (Cortical bone forms the outer shell of most bones and makes up about 80 percent of your skeletal mass. It is much denser than trabecular bone, harder, stronger and stiffer.)

Lead affects the brain and nervous system, reproductive capabilities, the kidneys, the digestive system and the ability to make blood.

Residents exposed to lead who are concerned about the health of their family and protecting their legal rights should contact an experienced Lead Poisoning Attorney for a case evaluation.