Leesburg clarifies criticism of TV water report

By Gary Abernathy - [email protected]

The village of Leesburg on Wednesday issued a statement clarifying an earlier press release that had claimed that Cincinnati TV station Fox 19 had inaccurately reported high levels of contamination in routine water samples in the village, and officials also assured residents that village water is safe.

Leesburg officials had originally sent a statement entitled “Response to recent report of water quality in Leesburg” in which it criticized Fox 19 for a story on water quality in Ohio which, village officials said, inaccurately reported on Leesburg’s water quality.

In preparing a story Tuesday based on the statement issued by Leesburg, The Times-Gazette contacted Fox 19 for a response. A news official with Fox 19 denied that the station’s report mentioned Leesburg, saying it only referred to “Highland County.”

The TV station provided The Times-Gazette with a link to its online version of the story, which stated that a report from the National Resources Defense Council found EPA data indicating that “150,000 Ohioans across 46 counties are potentially at-risk from lead and copper contaminated water. “ The story added, “The counties potentially affected include Warren, Hamilton, Highland, Dearborn and Butler.”

The story later added, “The report also outlines that exceeding 15 ppb means there must be extra efforts to combat corrosion and the public must also be informed on measures they should take to protect themselves. But some counties were found in the report to have excessive levels of lead such as Highland (25.3 ppb), Dearborn (21.85 ppb) and Butler (25.3 ppb).”

The story does not mention Leesburg by name, but an interactive map from the National Resources Defense Council that was linked to the story indicates just one Highland County community serving 1,300 customers as having excessive levels of lead. The map does not name Leesburg, but the description of the number of customers served by the system would seem to indicate Leesburg was the offending entity.

In its original response to the TV report, Leesburg officials stated, “Fox 19 incorrectly reported the level at 25.3 ug/L. During the sampling period Leesburg staff identified what was believed to be analytical problems with the laboratory contracted to analyze our water samples. We collected additional samples from the same addresses and used a different laboratory to conduct the tests. The 90th percentile concentration based on resampling was 8.73 ug/L, which did not exceed the Action Level.”

But after village officials were informed by The Times-Gazette that Fox 19 denied mentioning Leesburg and insisted it only reported the findings of the National Resources Defense Council in regard to a “Highland County” water sample, the village issued a second statement on Wednesday.

The updated statement from Leesburg officials says, “The Village notes that while only Highland County was referenced in the current version (of the Fox 19 report), the report they referenced lists only one Highland County water system, the Village of Leesburg. That report incorrectly quotes the 25.3 ug/L.”

The statement adds, “In formulating its original release on June 29, the Village relied upon the reports of citizens who had seen the original Fox 19 report and posted comments on social media – ultimately reaching the Village utilities office. Customer posts were very concerned about the safety of water in the Village. A decision was made to immediately reassure the Leesburg water customers with a release of information.” The release was sent to Fox 19 and two local news outlets, according to the statement from Leesburg officials.

The updated Leesburg statement concludes, “The current on-line version of the Fox 19 News report contains no direct reference to the Village of Leesburg. However, for some reason, the public was quick to connect the Village with the story and the county health department immediately requested copies of all Leesburg CCR reports. The Village utilities department will strive to cooperate with all news agencies and the public to give an accurate account of its operations.”

In April, The Times-Gazette produced a story on water quality in Highland County based on an Associated Press analysis of EPA water sampling data across the nation. As part of that story, The Times-Gazette reported, “When tests occasionally show higher than usual levels of lead, more tests are conducted. For example, Leesburg’s water quality report from 2014 states that because of some higher levels from some homes during a series of tests, the homes were re-tested, and lead was not detected in further follow-up samples collected at 20 Leesburg homes.”

The story also noted that most problems with high lead or copper contaminants are due to old plumbing in homes rather than problems with the water sources or treatment facilities, and that residents should regularly flush their water at the taps.

Reach Gary Abernathy at 937-393-3456 or on Twitter @abernathygary.


By Gary Abernathy

[email protected]