TOLEDO, Ohio – A proposed overhaul of how Ohio cities deal with lead in drinking water would force public water systems to alert residents within two days after lead is found at the tap.
Some, including a water industry group, argue it’s an arbitrary deadline, too short and could distract water operators at a time when they should be focused on the problem at hand.
The change in timing is a key part of the plan Gov. John Kasich’s administration rolled out in March to address lead in drinking water.
Lawmakers in the House already have approved the package and there’s a strong chance the Senate will vote on it this week.
Under the plan, public water systems would have two business days to alert residents when lead levels are above federal limits. Current federal rules call for all residents to be told within 60 days when the entire system exceeds the lead limits.
The measure also calls for speeding up the process of testing for lead in drinking water and helping cities map and remove lead pipes and working with schools to replace drinking fountains and faucets that have lead parts.
Craig Butler, director of the Ohio’s Environmental Protection Agency, began pushing for the change in notification requirements after it was announced in January that elevated lead levels were detected in drinking water in the northeastern Ohio village of Sebring months earlier.
Changing the notification requirement, he said, was prompted both by the dangers of lead and the public’s expectation to know as soon as possible when it might be in their water.
“Lead is different for us,” Butler said. “It has such an acute health impact that we want people to know when it’s detected.”
The head of a group that represents public water suppliers told lawmakers earlier this month the proposed two-day deadline was highly unlikely to impact public health.
“The two business day reporting limit is not a health or science based limit,” said Tyler Converse, chairman of the Ohio Water Utility Council and the water superintendent in Canton.
It also could endanger public health by pulling away resources “to meet an arbitrary notification deadline,” he said.
State Rep. John Boccieri, a Democrat from the Youngstown area, said making sure resident know about high lead levels will be tough to pull off in two days.
“You can’t even send out a piece of mail in two days,” Boccieri said.
Butler, the state’s EPA chief, said water systems could get the word out by social media, television or newspaper within two days. They would then have 30 days to directly contact residents, he said.