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Proponent Testimony on House Bill 512

Delivered by Melanie Houston on April 26, 2016. 

Members of the House Energy and Natural Resources Committee. My name is Melanie Houston, and I am Director of Oil and Gas Policy at the Ohio Environmental Council. Thank you for the opportunity to testify on behalf of the OEC in support of HB 512.

As the former Director of Environmental Health for the OEC, I was charged with leading on the issue of lead contamination in drinking water. Since news broke of lead contamination in the drinking water in the village of Sebring, Ohio in late January we have consulted with experts and water utilities, analyzed the federal lead standards, and briefed Ohio’s congressional delegation on Sebring, Ohio and the federal lead and copper rule.

The problem

When I was pregnant with my own precious daughter three years ago, I took every step I could to take to reduce her environmental exposure to toxins. I stayed away from smokers and I tried to eat just the right amount of fish. Little did I know that the water I was drinking while I was pregnant was a potential pathway for lead exposure, one which could risk my daughter’s future cognitive development and potentially affect the entire course of her life.

Thankfully, I live in a community (Grandview Heights) served by a public drinking water utility administered by the city of Columbus that is going above and beyond the federal minimum standards. But pregnant mothers and young children in Flint, Michigan and elsewhere have not been so fortunate. They have had to deal with the unthinkable.

In Sebring, Ohio, residents found out about lead contamination in their drinking supply five months after test results were known. Can you imagine? The operator had stopped adding an anti-corrosive agent to the water which caused lead to leach from the pipes into the water.The OEC met with local residents, attended a Sebring Village Council meeting, and heard first hand, the stories of concerned citizens.

In Sebring, the Mahoning County Department of Health conducted approximately 300 voluntary blood level screenings of pregnant and lactating women as well as children under the age of 6. Approximately 1,147 household water samples were tested under the direction of the Ohio EPA and hundreds of samples were also taken from schools, businesses and multiple unit dwellings.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has determined there is NO SAFE blood lead level in children. Lead poisoning is irreversible and the developmental effects of lead poisoning may take years to emerge. The New York Times reports that, “Decades of research have found that exposure to even low levels of lead can profoundly affect children’s growth, behavior and intelligence over time.”

In 2014, 1,224 children under the age of 6 in Ohio had blood lead levels at or over 10 micrograms per deciliter, the level at which the Ohio Department of Health will contact the parents to conduct a home lead assessment.The Ohio Department of Health asserts that “Lead poisoning is the greatest environmental threat to children in Ohio.” While the greatest environmental exposure for children to lead is from paint from old houses and buildings, insufficiently monitored drinking water can be a significant source, as well. And children absorb 50% of the lead in their environment compared to adults who only absorb only 20%.

Failure of the federal lead and copper rule

So what can you do? The federal and corresponding state law that is supposed to protect us from lead in drinking water is 25 years old. While the U.S. EPA plans to finalize an updated rule in 2018, we simply cannot afford to wait. The regulation, known as the lead and copper rule, has seen only minor updates since 1991 and fails to protect the health of Ohioans.  It fails because:

  1. It relies on outdated forms and timelines of public notification;
  2. It doesn’t trigger action until after there has been a lead problem; and
  3. It relies on action and public notification by local utilities only, failing to require all levels of government (local, state and federal) to ensure the public is notified of a lead problem.

Ultimately we need a systematic upgrade to our nation’s water infrastructure. But that comes with a big price tag and will take time. Right now, we need to deal with this failing law.

Why this bill would fix the problem

The OEC respectfully suggests that Ohio lawmakers take action now.HB 512 offers a comprehensive set of solutions to protect Ohio families. We commend Governor Kasich and the Ohio EPA for championing this legislation. It is responsive, reasonable and the responsible thing to do.

Safeguards in HB 512 include, first, more attention on corrosion control treatment plans. With this law, Ohio will require a corrosion control study whenever a water system changes its water source, makes substantial renovation, repairs its system or water treatment plant or experiences any other event that may impact the quality or corrosiveness of the water in the system.

HB 512 will provide for greater transparency by requiring water systems to identify and map areas that are known or likely to contain lead service lines. A copy of this map will then be provided to the Department of Health and Department of Jobs and Family Services, allowing for better transparency to the public and better protection of children.

HB 512 will create better accountability and enforceability for water systems as it lays out a schedule of penalties for drinking water systems not following the law.

The bill also provides for important funding opportunities for assisting communities in replacing lead service lines, assisting schools in replacing outdated water fountains and other water fixtures, and in making low-interest loans available to public water systems for corrosion control studies, improving treatment technologies and identifying lead service lines.

Perhaps most noteworthy, though, are the new and improved notification timelines, which will reduce the timeframe for delivering lead test results to individual homeowners from 30 days to 2 days, and will reduce the timeframe for delivering notice of a lead exceedance to the entire water system from 60 days to 2 days.

US EPA Federal lead and copper rule notification standard

HB 512 Proposed notification standard

Water systems must notify individuals/households where lead samples were taken within 30 days of results being known

Water systems must notify individuals/household where lead samples were taken within 2 business days of lab results being known

Water systems must notify customers of a lead action level exceedance within 60 days

Water systems must notify customers of a lead action level exceedance within 2 business days of lab results being known

Water systems must notify the Ohio EPA within 90 days of the end of the monitoring period that they have completed consumer notifications

Water systems must notify Ohio EPA within 5 days of receiving lab results that they have completed consumer notifications

No timeline is spelled out for labs to process lead test results

Labs are required to process results for lead tests within 30 business days

In modern America, there is no good reason for anyone to go months, or even weeks, without knowing whether their drinking water is safe.

We live in an era of rapid communication and advanced technology – one in which schools can put systems in place to let parents know the same day that there has been a lice outbreak. We know that drinking water utilities can follow suit and put in place their own systems for rapid communication.

To those who say that these timelines are too aggressive, I ask: what if it were your child, or your niece or nephew, who was exposed to lead? How long would you be willing to wait to know whether the water your child was drinking was safe?

Where this bill could be strengthened

We believe House Bill 512 is solid legislation, proposing upgrades to Ohio law that are necessary and urgent. We respectfully ask that you also consider the following three additional improvements to Ohio law:

  1. A provision to require schools and daycare providers to conduct annual lead sampling and testing of their drinking water
  2. A provision to require mandatory disclosure of lead service lines and lead plumbing in home sales and rental contracts
  3. A professional training program for drinking water operators including instruction on corrosion control treatment, monitoring parameters and the notification requirements and procedures established within this law.  

Summary

We know the federal standard on lead is not getting the job done. Updates to the federal standards will take time, and Ohioans shouldn’t have to wait for better protections.

It is unacceptable for children in Ohio and America to be drinking water contaminated with lead. No parent should have to wonder if their daughter or son will be harmed from drinking water contaminated from the school water fountain or the home water fawcett. If a lead problem does arise again, in no circumstances should anyone have to wait years or months to learn what’s in their water.We need to ensure that every Ohio child is protected from lead-contaminated drinking water. We respectfully but vigorously urge the General Assembly to pass HB512 before the summer recess. Your YES vote will protect all children in Ohio, while a no vote may needlessly leave many children vulnerable.Thank you.