The water crisis in Flint, Mich., is attracting a lot of attention lately — and rightfully so.
But while we work to help the people of Flint, we must also remember that Flint is not the only town where families face exposure to dangerous levels of lead.
Right here in Ohio, in the Village of Sebring, we know there are troubling amounts of lead in the water. No parent should have to worry that the water coming out of their faucets might be poisoning their children. Pregnant women shouldn’t have to fear their tap water.
That’s why my office is drafting legislation to help. Just like in Flint, families in Sebring were left in the dark about the presence of lead in their water. For months, local officials failed to notify residents about the lead — and the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency failed to step in. Our bill will require the federal Environmental Protection Agency to notify the public directly if there’s a danger from lead in the water system, if the state fails to do so within 15 days.
No more arguing about whose responsibility it is, while families continue drinking water that we know isn’t safe. No more finger pointing after the fact. Our bill will lay down a marker that when there is a problem with the water, people have a right to know — and if the state fails, it’s the EPA’s job to make sure they do.
Improving notification is a critical first step, but it isn’t enough. Our legislation would require communities whose water is contaminated to put a plan in place to clean up their water supply within six months. Right now, cities can take up to 18 months. Imagine getting a notice that your water isn’t safe, but being told you have to wait up to a year and a half before there is even a plan in place to fix it. That’s unacceptable.
And in the meantime, families need to know there are resources available to them while their water is being cleaned up — whether it’s bringing in bottled water, providing special filters, or whatever may be needed. Our legislation will make sure there is a clear plan in place to deliver safe, clean water for families.
Finally, we will require the EPA to post annual water quality reports online in one, easy-to-find place so the public has access to information about what’s going on with their water.
And as we work to respond to the immediate needs in Sebring and Flint, we must also remember that this problem stretches far beyond just our water systems. Too many of our children in cities throughout the state are exposed to lead through paint in older homes and even through the dirt in their backyards.
An investigation last fall and found that more than 40,000 children in Cuyahoga County have tested positive for lead poisoning over the past 10 years. Nationwide, the Centers for Disease Control estimate that at least 4 million American households with children are being exposed to high levels of lead.
It’s not enough to just react to the immediate crisis at hand — once children have been exposed, the effects can’t be erased. We need a proactive strategy to protect families from being exposed to lead in the first place. This bill is just one piece of that puzzle.
We are in this fight for the long haul, and we will keep fighting to protect Ohio families from lead.
U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio, serves in the U.S. Senate in Washington, D.C.