SEBRING, Ohio (AP) – A water treatment plant manager in Sebring, Ohio, denied allegations made by the state’s environmental agency that he falsified reports about high levels of lead and copper being detected in some homes last summer.
The state Environmental Protection Agency said the operator of the small water system near Youngstown failed to notify the public for months that unsafe levels of lead had been found and submitted “misleading, inaccurate or false reports.”
Plant superintendent James Bates denied he falsified reports. “That is a downright lie,” he told The Vindicator in Youngstown late Monday.
The village manager of Sebring is Richard Giroux, the former Hillsboro safety and service director who served in that role during the first year of Mayor Drew Hastings’ administration.
Giroux announced Tuesday morning he has placed Bates on paid administrative leave effective immediately pending the outcome of a state investigation, The Vindicator reported.
Bates declined to comment when contacted by The Associated Press.
Authorities have been handing out bottled water, and schools were closed Tuesday for a third day in Sebring, a village about 60 miles southeast of Cleveland. The Sebring water system serves 8,100 homes and businesses in three Mahoning County communities.
In Michigan, a larger investigation is underway into how the drinking water supply for 100,000 people in Flint was contaminated with lead. Plant operators there failed to make sure corrosive water from the Flint River was treated to prevent leaching from old pipes.
Testing over the weekend in Sebring found one school drinking fountain with lead levels that exceed EPA standards. One school district leader said the buildings will remain closed until the results of additional tests are known.
Children can develop learning disabilities and behavior problems from lead exposure.
Ohio EPA Director Craig Butler has asked the U.S. EPA to open a criminal investigation.
Butler said his agency was “too patient” in pushing for public notification about potential lead hazards after testing found high levels at a handful of older homes starting in June.
“We should have had this elevated for immediate action sooner,” Butler said. “Our No. 1 priority is protecting the public health.”
Correspondence released Sunday by the Ohio EPA showed that it had been asking Bates for months when he would alert the public.
Water systems are required by federal rules to notify the public when high levels of lead are found. It wasn’t until Thursday that Giroux issued a public notice that children and pregnant women should avoid drinking Sebring’s water.
Giroux was dismissed by Hastings after an arrest and guilty plea to a charge of impaired driving following a traffic stop in Hillsboro in November of 2012.