The former water system operator in an Ohio town faces criminal charges for failing to notify residents of high lead levels in their tap water.
Jim Bates was the operator of record for the public water system in Sebring when a lab confirmed high lead levels in samples taken during routine tap water testing in August and September last year.
Bates faces two misdemeanor counts of recklessly failing to provide timely notice to consumers and one misdemeanor count of recklessly failing to provide timely system-wide public education, Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine and Ohio Environmental Protection Agency Director Craig W. Butler announced Wednesday.
Ohio safe drinking water laws required Bates to notify individuals affected by the contaminated water within 30 days of receiving the results. The law also requires personnel to provide system-wide education to the public within 60 days of receiving the results.
Bates received the first set of lab results showing excess lead levels August 20, according to a sworn affidavit from Ohio EPA investigator Ronald Fodo, filed Wednesday. Lab results from follow-up samples, also showing excess lead in the water, were sent to Bates September 10 and 24, Fodo said.
It wasn’t until December 18 that Bates notified residents, Fodo said in the affidavit.
Lawmakers have said the Ohio EPA also knew about the problems in August but didn’t tell the public for months.
The agency eventually issued 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.”
Bates declined to comment. His attorney, Nils Johnson, could not be reached for comment.
Two Ohio EPA employees were fired in connection to the spike in lead levels that closed Sebring public schools in January.
The Ohio EPA has taken steps since to address Sebring’s problems, including providing $25,000 for filtration systems in February, shipping bottled water to the village and conducting numerous tests.
State officials responded to the water crisis by passing a law, signed by Gov. John Kasich on June 9, requiring faster high-lead alerts and other steps to eliminate potential dangers.
The Ohio EPA still has a drinking water advisory posted for Sebring. The village water system conducted another round of lead and copper testing in June.