Melanie Houston, Drinking Water Director, March 4, 2016
Since the news broke of lead contamination in drinking water in Sebring, Ohio, the OEC has been diligently working on the issue. In less than a month, we’ve developed legislative concepts to fix the problems in the federal lead and copper rule using state law, and we’ve been sharing these proposals with congressional and state lawmakers.
Last week, OEC’s Kristy Meyer met with the Council of Environmental Quality (CEQ) and the USEPA at the White House to speak about legislative solutions to the lead crisis in Flint and Sebring. As a result of that meeting, OEC was asked to pull together a small working group. I have now joined a small panel of experts to do a deep dive into the OEC’s legislative solutions for the White House. My colleagues and I won’t stop working on this issue until we know that every Ohioans’ tap delivers safe, clean drinking water.
We’ve also been digging around in over 2,000 pages of public documents to find more answers to what went wrong. There are still pieces of the picture that are missing, like why the water treatment facility operator stopped adding an anti-corrosive agent going back to 2010, and what the lead test results were from the last testing cycle in 2012. As we learn updates and draw more conclusions, we will keep you posted.
This week, we’ve put together a map of all of the lead drinking water advisories across the state of Ohio from the end of 2013 through the beginning of 2016, with the greatest spike in 2015. Ohio has seen 12 lead advisories, ranging from nursing homes to schools to mobile homes and a village. Most of the sites of the lead advisories (save Sebring) provide water for communities of people less than 250. Still, many of them are places where vulnerable populations like children and the elderly gather. Additionally, these are places where many of us visit and drink the water.
Lead is toxic to the human body. The Center for Disease Control states that there is “no safe blood lead level in children.” Yet, there are approximately half a million US children ages 1-5 with blood lead levels above above which the CDC recommends public health actions be initiated.
Lead poisoning happens when the metal builds up in the body, often over time. Even small amounts of lead can cause serious issues. Young children and pregnant women are at the greatest risk of health problems related to lead exposure. Lead is especially harmful to children due to their developing brain and nervous system. Lead can affect almost any system in the body, but in children it often impacts the neurological system. Specifically, it can cause, among many issues, poor concentration, behavioral issues, lower IQ, lower capacity for academic achievement, and developmental delay.
A simple blood test can confirm the presence of lead in the body. The first treatment is to remove the source of lead. Chelation therapy also can be used when levels of lead are very high. Sadly, the effects of lead are irreversible. This is why prevention is so important.
We believe strongly that it is the role of the local water treatment systems, Ohio EPA and the US EPA to prevent lead contamination of our drinking water in the first place. However, there are ways to reduce the risk of lead exposure through drinking water at the household level. First, certain types of home filters can be used to remove lead from water. These include ion exchange filters, reverse osmosis filters, and distillation.
Secondly, unless you know your home and service lines are free of lead, you should refrain from using hot water for drinking or cooking. This is because water sits in the hot water tank after sitting in the pipes. Additionally, you should run your cold tap water for at least 30 seconds before using it in the morning and other times when the water has been sitting in the pipes to reduce exposure.
Stay tuned for ways you can get involved in this work and make sure you sign up for our email list to get the most current updates.