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Ohio leaders involved in Sebring water investigation

SEBRING, Ohio (WKBN) - The Department of Justice is now investigating just what happened leading to a three-to four-month delay in notifying Sebring Water customers that lead was found in the water at several testing locations.

The Ohio Environmental Protection Agency alleges that Sebring Water Superintendent Jim Bates submitted incomplete data and lacked the proper documentation for the water tests. Bates declined to comment on the allegations against him, but his license has been revoked by the Ohio EPA, and he has been pulled from working at 10 other water districts in which he serves as operator.

In addition to operating the Sebring Water Plant, Bates also handles operations at Malvern Village in Carroll County, Premier Park Estates, Winona Water Supply, Ohio Drill and Tool Company, Eagle Pass Golf Course and Knox Elementary School in Columbiana County, Damascus Elementary School in Mahoning County and Skyland Hills and the Christdelphians in Stark County.

Owners of the other water systems that Bates worked for are being notified that they need to get a contract operator to oversee those systems, according to Ohio EPA spokeswoman Heidi Griesmer. The Village of Malvern's mayor said she has asked Bates to resign, in light of what has occurred in Sebring.

First News has reported on the string of paperwork which led to the drinking water advisory in Sebring.

"This one rose to my level, just because of the inactivity and because it is a lead issue," said Ohio EPA Director Craig Butler.

Sebring reported lead at 21 parts per billion in seven customers' homes, above the federal action levels of 15 parts per billion To compare to the lead water crisis that is currently ongoing in Flint, Michigan, the lead level found in Flint's water by a Virginia Tech Research Team was 27 parts per billion.

New tests show just two locations remain over the allowable limit.

"We've been too patient when we have issues like this," Butler said. "We need to bring them to our chain of command, quicker for attention."

Gov. John Kasich's spokesperson also provided a response to the lead issues in Sebring, saying that the governor has received regular briefings on the matter.

"He fully supports the Ohio EPA's efforts to help fix the problem and remove their rogue operator," said spokesperson Joe Andrews.

Congressman Bill Johnson has also been in talks with the Butler and Sebring Mayor Michael Pinkerton on Tuesday.

"The word I've gotten from the state EPA director is they're on top of this, and I'm going to continue monitoring it," Johnson said. "But I'm talking to everybody up and down the chain."

Ohio's EPA director says he is not opposed to visiting Sebring, but right now, he is letting other teams handle the situation.

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