Two Ohio EPA staffers fired, one demoted over lead in village's water

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Story highlights

  • Ohio EPA employees and supervisor fired after probe of lead in the drinking water
  • An Ohio EPA manager is demoted for "not elevating the Sebring issue"
  • Sebring is a village of about 4,400 people between Canton and Youngstown

(CNN)Two Ohio environmental employees have been fired and another demoted as part of an investigation into lead levels in the drinking water in Sebring, according to the state Environmental Protection Agency.

In a statement, the Ohio EPA said Wednesday that it had fired a central office employee for failing to ensure that lead-level lab results were provided to a field office, a critical step in the review process.
That employee's supervisor also was fired for "not properly managing an employee who had an existing record of performance issues and not providing appropriate corrective counseling or progressive discipline despite being instructed to do so," the statement said.
    In addition, a manager in the Northeast District Office was demoted for "not elevating the Sebring issue" to management or the agency's director when the district informed the village of a problem on December 3, the statement said.
    Earlier this month, the Ohio EPA announced that tests of all 54 water samples (from 53 homes) showed "lead levels ... below the federal allowable limit." This is consistent with other recent tests indicating "improving water conditions" in the village of about 4,400 people between Canton and Youngstown.
    The Ohio EPA has come under fire for not acting faster to acknowledge and address Sebring's problems.
    State officials have said the Ohio EPA knew lead was leaking into Sebring's water supply as far back as August.
    But it wasn't until December that the agency finally told the public that something was wrong, in the form of recommendations from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, that "children and pregnant women 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."
    Ohio EPA director Craig Butler said in Wednesday's statement that he learned on January 21 that Sebring had failed to notify residents of issues with lead levels in the tap water.
    The steps taken by the Ohio EPA to address Sebring's problems include $25,000 for filtration systems, shipping bottled water to the village and conducting numerous tests.
    According to the CDC, while exposure to lead isn't good for anyone, "no safe blood level in children has been identified." The Mayo Clinic says that lead "can severely affect mental and physical development" in children and can even be fatal at high levels.