Legislation to Address Hazardous Lead Levels

Sydney Allen, Editor-in-Chief

Amid rising national concerns regarding toxic lead levels in drinking water, Ohio Senator Sherrod Brown met with federal and local officials in Cleveland on Friday to discuss the issue. Sebring and Chagrin Falls, Ohio, have been the latest cities to issue warnings about unsafe levels of lead found in their water systems. Numerous properties in the area, including schools, are being investigated for their lead levels.

“As we work to respond to the immediate crises in Sebring and Flint, we must also remember that the problem of lead contamination stretches far beyond just our water systems,” Brown said in an email to the Review. “Too many of Cleveland’s children are exposed to lead through paint in older homes and even through the dirt in their backyards. This is an urgent problem and we all must work together to address it.”

According to The Cleveland Plain Dealer, while 17 percent of children under the age of six in Cleveland have unsafe levels of lead in their blood, more than 187,000 homes in Cuyahoga County could have lead hazards.

Senator Sherrod Brown meets with officials in Cleveland. Brown recently introduced legislation to protect communities in Ohio from unsafe levels of lead in drinking water.
Courtesy of Rachel Petri
Senator Sherrod Brown meets with officials in Cleveland. Brown recently introduced legislation to protect communities in Ohio from unsafe levels of lead in drinking water.

Lead, a dangerous neurotoxin that has been linked to severe cognitive impairment, can cause developmental issues in children and has been linked to behavioral problems later in life.

Senator Brown, who has led discussions in the fight against lead poisoning, announced legislation this week that would reduce lead hazards in Ohio. His bill includes plans to ensure families are promptly notified when there is a problem, and requires Ohio communities to have a plan in place to fix the problem within six months — the current requirement is up to 18 months.

The bill also requires there to be a plan in place to ensure access to clean, safe water and requires the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to make annual water quality reports available online for every state.

Senator Brown took to the Senate floor on Feb. 2, where he spoke of how citizens in Sebring and Flint were unaware of the dangerous amounts of lead present in their water because of governmental failure.

Brown’s amendment requires the EPA to notify residents of unsafe drinking water if the state fails to do so in a 15-day time span. This will prevent any delay in action and deference of blame after the fact, said Brown.

“The village of Sebring in northeast Ohio is experiencing an ongoing issue of lead in their water, which in part inspired Senator Brown’s legislation. Reports indicate that there were levels of lead above the federal allowable level for months before families were notified that children and pregnant women shouldn’t drink the water,” Senator Brown’s office said in an email to the Review.

Dangerous lead levels in drinking water disproportionately affect low income children as well as children of color, said Brown.

“The Center for Disease Control estimates that at least four million American households — four million American households with children — are exposed to high levels of lead. We know what that does to their brain development. We know the impact it has for the rest of their lives,” Senator Brown said at the event.

The city of Oberlin has also responded to the issue given its proximity to Cuyahoga County. The city’s water division posted a “Lead and Copper Fact Sheet” to their website on Feb. 1 regarding the findings in Flint, Sebring and Chagrin Falls.

It states that the Oberlin Water Department is following all guidelines set in place by the EPA’s Lead and Copper Rules that were issued on June 7, 1991.

“The lead and copper rules establish action levels of 15 parts per billion for [lead] and 1,300 parts per billion for [copper] based on the 90th percentile of tap water samples,” the fact sheet states. “An exceedance of these action levels is not a violation but can trigger other requirements that include additional water quality monitoring, corrosion control treatment, source water monitoring/ treatment, public education and lead service line replacement.”

The Oberlin water system has been following the LCR since 1991 and has scaled down the amount of tests issued due to very low levels of lead and copper. They now test 20 residences for lead and copper every three years; results can be found in the annual consumer confidence report on their website.

The last lead and copper test was in July 2014 and showed no irregularities. Oberlin’s pipes are treated daily using a lime softener and other chemicals and are tested weekly for pipe corrosion, a main source of lead poisoning. The city of Oberlin also has a connection with the Rural Lorain County Water Authority that would be used in a water supply emergency.

“We’ve reached out to state and national experts on the content of the bill. The Senator will continue to work with groups to build support for this commonsense proposal,” Senator Brown’s office said.