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Schools in Ohio town closed for third day over lead contamination

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Desks in an empty elementary school classroom (Shutterstock.com)

Schools in the Ohio village of Sebring were closed for a third day on Tuesday after elevated levels of lead were found in pipes serving some homes and buildings, making it the second Midwestern region to be plagued by tainted water.

Three schools in Sebring, 60 miles (97 km) northeast of Cleveland, have been shut down since Friday. The Ohio Environmental Protection Agency hit the village with a violation notice last week requiring it to notify residents of the lead problem, after first warning about risks to pregnant women and children on Dec. 3.

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The Sebring news follows weeks of controversy over high lead levels in the water of Flint, Michigan, which has led to calls for the resignation of Michigan Governor Rick Snyder.

An EPA report on Tuesday found that two samples from Sebring’s McKinley Junior/Senior High School had lead levels above federal standards.

“It has become apparent that our field office was too patient in dealing with the village of Sebring’s ‘cat and mouse’ game,” Ohio EPA Director Craig Butler said in a statement on Sunday.

No lead was found at the district’s middle school and athletic building, and lead found in water samples at the elementary school was below the federal allowable level.

Tests of the water plant confirm the village of Sebring’s water treatment plant has no detectable lead. However, water chemistry caused corrosion in piping leading to 28 homes and one school building, the EPA found.

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The EPA said that it has reason to believe that Sebring’s water treatment plant operator falsified reports. The agency is requesting assistance from U.S. EPA’s Criminal Investigation Division.

The Ohio EPA has required continual water testing, bottled water distribution and filtration systems provided to homes where results are above the federal allowable level. The advisory will remain in place for a minimum of a year.

Village officials for Sebring were not immediately available for comment on Tuesday.

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Lead is a neurotoxin that can damage brains and cause other health problems.

(Editing by Mary Wisniewski and Matthew Lewis)

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