SEBRING, OH(AP) – State officials on Wednesday charged a former village water plant operator with waiting too long to notify residents after tests showed high levels of lead in their drinking water.
The two charges, both misdemeanors, come after residents said they were not told until mid-January about the lead, months after the tests were conducted.
The scrutiny into what happened has already led the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency to fire two employees and spurred a change in state law that speeds up the notification when lead is detected in tap water.
The charges accuse former Sebring water plant superintendent James Bates of failing to alert homeowners where the tests were conducted within the required 30 days and also missing a 60-day deadline to notify village residents.
Bates on Wednesday said he was unaware that the charges had been filed and declined to comment.
The state attorney general’s office said it filed the charges at the request of the state EPA.
Ohio officials earlier had said Bates also falsified reports – allegations he called an “outright lie.” No falsification charges were filed against him.
Sebring came under scrutiny at the beginning of the year when schools closed and pregnant women and small children were warned not to drink tap water after high lead levels were found months before. Truckloads of bottled water were brought in for the 8,100 customers in Sebring and two neighboring communities, at the same time Flint, Michigan, was battling its own lead-in-water crisis.
Bates was fired soon after the results were made public. Two state Environmental Protection Agency employees also were fired after agency officials said the employees mishandled the situation.
The firings of the EPA employees came after the agency looked into why it took months for top administrators to find out about high lead levels.
Ohio Gov. John Kasich signed a new law in June that requires public water systems to alert residents within two days after lead is found at the tap – a much quicker notification than current federal rules that give water plants two months to notify all residents.
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