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Published: Wednesday, 8/13/2014 - Updated: 1 month ago

58 Toledo business face questioning for price gouging during water crisis

BY TOM HENRY
BLADE STAFF WRITER

Fifty-eight Metro Toledo businesses are being told by Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine to justify the prices they charged for bottled water during the region‘‍s historic water crisis the first weekend of August.

“Although Ohio does not currently have a statute that defines what price gouging is, we are working with consumers and businesses to gather all the facts,” Mr. DeWine said in a prepared statement released to the media today. “It is possible that the facts will show that no violations occurred, but we want to make sure that the businesses substantiate any price increases and ensure they conformed with Ohio law. Those that cannot substantiate their actions may face legal repercussions.”

RELATED: Stores listed by Attorney General's office for water price gouging complaints

The letters, which went out Friday, were prompted by 56 consumer complaints his office has received, Mr. DeWine said.

Prices charged during the height of the Aug. 2 to Aug. 4 event, during which 500,000 Metro Toledo residents were told to avoid drinking, bathing in, and otherwise consuming tap water, will be benchmarked against what businesses charged on average from June 1 through Aug. 1.

The attorney general’‍s office also wants to know what those prices have been since the warning was lifted, as well as the prices businesses paid to make the water available.

Residents are encouraged to contact his office if they have information about unusually high prices charged during the event, Mr. DeWine said.

The preferred methods of contact are via phone, 800-282-0515, or online at www.OhioAttorneyGeneral.gov.

Consumers are encouraged to submit as much information and documentation as possible with their complaints.

Although Ohio does not have a statute that defines price gouging, the state’s Consumer Sales Practices Act prohibits unfair, deceptive, and unconscionable sales practices.

A practice could be considered unconscionable if the supplier knew at the time of the transaction that the price was substantially higher than the price at which similar goods or services could be readily obtained, Mr. DeWine‘‍s office said.

The water was deemed temporarily unsafe because of a high spike in toxic microcystis algae near Toledo’‍s water-intake crib in western Lake Erie‘‍s Maumee Bay.

The toxin in that algae, microcystin, was so concentrated that operators of the Collins Park Water Treatment Plant could not keep it out of the public water supply, as they have done many times in the past.

City officials maintain there was no breakdown in the system, despite a long backlog of repairs and upgrades being phased in at the 73-year-old plant.

Contact Tom Henry at: thenry@theblade.com or 419-724-6079.


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