A water treatment plant manager denied allegations made by Ohio’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.
Authorities have been handing out bottled water and schools were closed for a third day on Tuesday in Sebring, a village about 60 miles southeast of Cleveland.
Testing over the weekend 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 number one 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 Sebring village manager Richard Giroux issued a public notice that children and pregnant women should avoid drinking Sebring’s water.
The Sebring water system serves 8,100 homes and businesses in three Mahoning County communities.
The Associated Press contributed to this article