Lack of money prevents solutions to lead-contaminated water

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YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio (WKBN) – It’s been over a year since the public first learned of problems with lead-contaminated water lines in the Sebring area. Even though lawmakers passed new rules for notifying residents, the problems have not yet been resolved.

“We have 88 counties in the state. We still have 75 water advisories, either with some sort of contaminants or toxins that are in the water,” Representative John Boccieri said.

He said nine of those involve lead contamination. Recently, high lead levels were found in Youngstown as well.

“We need a Marshall Plan like we had in Europe. We need a Marshall Plan for America that’s going to repair our infrastructure,” Boccieri said. “It’s suggested right now that $1 trillion is needed to correct and improve those water lines from a person’s, or resident’s, mailbox to their home.”

Boccieri and fellow Representative Michelle Lepore Hagan sat down with leaders from the Mahoning County Board of Health Thursday morning.

The board said state funding cuts have been a problem for over a decade.

“By the time that 2013 came, they offered us zero dollars to do case management and $600 to do a lead assessment. That takes three times that amount to actually conduct,” said Mahoning County Health Commissioner Pat Sweeney.

Since the county can’t afford to do the work, the state has assumed responsibility. But Sweeney said the process is lacking.

“It’s an easier process for locals to be able to do that than to send someone from Columbus to try to do that who doesn’t know the community.”

The county’s lead-based paint abatement program received almost $3 million in federal grants last fall, but the funds are targeted.

“The way that the ‘lead-safe’ housing rule’s written, that money wasn’t to go toward water lines and things,” said board member Phil Puryear.

Even if the money could be used, it would cover fewer than 200 homes.

Officials admit there are 22 different zip codes in Mahoning County alone listed as having a high risk for lead contamination, according to the state.

“It’s still a matter of money and if the county doesn’t have it and the city doesn’t have it, you’re at a standstill,” Puryear said.

Local leaders and lawmakers both agree there needs to be better coordination between state and local health agencies — something the representatives said they are working to address in Columbus.

Although lawmakers are hoping to come up with more funding, it’s not likely to happen anytime soon.

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