State toughens lead guidelines

Water advisories upgraded for 16 water systems in Ohio.

Children and pregnant women should use bottled water or a water filtration system at public water systems across Ohio where lead levels exceed federal limits, new guidelines from Ohio’s Environmental Protection Agency say.

>>>MAP: Lead advisories for Ohio's drinking water

The strongly-worded advisory follows the public water crisis in Flint, Mich., and in Sebring, Ohio, where five children were found to have elevated blood lead levels.

Ohio lists 16 public water systems where tests have led to public advisories saying lead is a problem. Most are in northeast Ohio but the list includes the village of Rockford in Mercer County and the Grand Lake Estates Mobile Home Park on Grand Lake St. Marys near Celina.

Last week, public advisories for these sites — including some with three times the allowable level of lead — said, “You do not need to use an alternative (e.g. bottled) water supply.”

Now the advisories say the exact opposite: “Children and pregnant women should use bottled water or water from a filtration system that has been certified by an independent testing organization to reduce or eliminate lead for cooking, drinking and baby formula preparation.”

State officials say the new guidelines reflect recommendations from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control.

“CDC says that if your tap water contains lead at levels exceeding U.S. EPA’s action level of 15 (parts per billion) you should take action to minimize your exposure to the lead in the water,” said Ohio Department of Health spokesman Russ Kennedy.

At the Mercer County mobile home park, an advisory was issued in October after testing found three times the allowable limit of lead. But residents this week said they haven’t been warned about the water.

“”I’m pretty ticked off. I never heard of anything,” said Karrie Baab, who has lived in the park of roughly 200 residents for about two years. “There’s a lady that lives across the street that has four kids.”

Baab said many residents don’t drink the water because it’s off-color and smells like chemicals. “The water is nasty,” she said.

Ohio EPA officials are taking extra steps at the village of Sebring, southwest of Youngstown. Residents learned recently that the village for months didn’t disclose that dangerous lead levels were found.

Schools in Sebring have been closed this week and Ohio EPA officials say they will require the village to provide residents with bottled water or filtration systems, test any home where residents are concerned about their water, and work with the county health department to provide health screenings.

State lawmakers have questioned the Ohio EPA’s response to Sebring, which strikes a similar cord to the disaster in Flint, where lead-laden drinking water has caused a public health emergency.

Local water tested

The Ohio EPA requires public water supplies across Ohio to routinely test their water — between six months and three years depending on previous results — and report findings to the state. If more than 10 percent of the homes tested show lead in excess of U.S. EPA limits, customers must be informed within 60 days.

Montgomery County Environmental Services — this region’s largest water supplier — was last required to test for lead in 2014. The county tested 80 homes and found no lead in 75 of them; of the five where lead was found, none exceeded U.S. EPA rules.

“Montgomery County drinking water meets or exceeds all state and federal drinking water quality standards,” county water department spokeswoman Brianna Wooten said.

Lead usually enters the water system from the pipes themselves, which is more of a problem for older homes built before the 1950s, and the lead solder in copper plumbing. This is especially a problem when water sits in the pipes for a long time without being used.

The problem in Flint emerged when that city began using a different water source, which pulled more lead from the pipes.

Miami Valley residents concerned about what’s in their drinking water can have their water tested by Montgomery County Environmental Services. The test kits cost $12. County officials especially urge well owners to test their private wells regularly.

The county conducted 70 paid tests last year and found four samples containing lead, with levels ranging from just over the limit requiring immediate action to more than four times that limit. In Flint, lead levels reached more than 25 times the action limit.

Locally, Public Health-Dayton & Montgomery County inspects homes when children are diagnosed with severe lead poisoning. The agency inspected 22 homes last year, and found drinking water to be the source in zero instances.

“In recent years, the source of lead, when we’ve found a source, is something other than water,” said agency spokesman Bill Wharton. Common sources of lead include peeling house paint, paint dust and lead-painted toys.

Other schools, communities water not safe

Rockford and Sebring are the only incorporated areas in Ohio with active advisories. The other areas include four mobile home parks, four schools and one daycare.

In 2014, the village of Rockford tested 10 homes and found worrisome lead levels in two of them. Village manager Jeff Owens said the village notified the 500 homes and businesses it serves and fixed the problem in mid-2015 with new pipes and further treating the water.

“We are in good shape now,” Owens said, predicting the village will be removed from the water advisory list after another test in six months.

The Grand Lake Estates Mobile Home Park was issued a drinking water advisory after testing found lead in the water at three times the U.S. EPA limit, according to state data. Fewer than 250 people are served by the water system.

“We have terrible water supply issues in this area,” said Kate Anderson, president of the group Guardians of Grand Lake St. Marys.

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