Ohio among worst for lead violations in water systems

Miami Valley Hospital’s discovery of elevated lead levels in a portion of its Dayton campus water supply isn’t an isolated problem in Ohio, according to a national report.

The state ranked among the worst states in the U.S. for water systems with lead violations, according to new report from the Natural Resources Defense Council that shows millions of Americans got their drinking water from systems with lead violations in 2015.

The report released Tuesday dives into the prevalence of lead in drinking water. More than 18 million people were served by 5,363 community water systems that violated lead and copper regulations — and one of the worst offenders was Ohio. These violations included failure to treat to reduce lead levels, failure to monitor for lead, and failure to report test results to citizens or the government, according to the report.

Ohio EPA records show in 2015 that more than 20 violations involving lead in water systems were found at local governments or businesses with private water supplies in counties in the Miami Valley.

NRDC scientists and health experts say the problem could be more pervasive because many lead violations don’t even show up in government databases. Even Flint, Mich. — which saw widespread issues with elevated lead levels in the city water supply that affected the health of children in the community — didn’t show up in government databases as having violations.

More than a week after elevated lead levels were found in the water supply of multiple Miami Valley Hospital buildings on South Main Street, officials have yet to determine the source of the problem. The results of the most recent water supply testing of the region’s largest hospital stayed consistent with original numbers.

The water line flushing plan will remove all sediment in these pipes, Howard said. This will result in accurate findings for future water tests. Howard said the hospital is still providing bottled water and ice to patients and staff as they work to find the source of the cause.

On June 17, test results showed elevated levels of lead in the water supply of the southeast addition of the hospital. Hospital officials worked with the Ohio Protection Agency, and completed further testing on surrounding areas and buildings.

EPA audits have long found that many drinking water violations do not show up in its database, according to the report.

“It’s basically like sipping water out of a lead straw,” said Erik Olson, health program director at NRDC. “A whopping nine out of 10 of these water rule violations never faced any formal enforcement. States and EPA sought penalties against only three percent of lead rule violators. That’s inexcusable.”

Olson said there has been a pattern of officials who have found a way to “game the system” in order to obscure lead contamination.

“There’s pretty substantial lead contamination that is not being reported,” he said.

Lead is especially toxic to children, who are more susceptible to lead poisoning and suffer more severe impacts than adults. Scientists have found that even at low levels previously thought to be safe, lead can cause serious, irreversible damage to the developing brains and nervous systems of babies and young children.

“The bottom line is that lead is found in drinking water in cities well beyond Flint, often affecting vulnerable lower-income communities of color,” said Rhea Suh, NRDC’s president. “Unsafe drinking water is a national problem that needs a national solution.”

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