Ohio town closes schools as state EPA demands more water tests

What is lead poisoning?
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  • Schools in Sebring, Ohio, will be closed Monday and Tuesday
  • State EPA taking steps to revoke license of town's water treatment operator

(CNN)Following on the heels of the tainted water crisis in Flint, Michigan, Ohio officials have shut down schools in a small town over concerns about its drinking water.

The Ohio Environmental Protection Agency has warned some residents not to drink tap water after samples from homes and schools showed unsafe lead levels in Sebring, a town 70 miles southeast of Cleveland.
    Schools in Sebring will be closed Monday and Tuesday as the state EPA conducts additional water testings.
    Tests showed lead levels at 21 parts per billion in some homes, according to Heidi Griesmer, spokeswoman for the Ohio EPA. The feds require the levels not to exceed 15 parts per billion. Health officials found lead levels as high as 27 parts per billion in Flint, according to CNN's Dr. Sanjay Gupta.
    The Ohio EPA said it's taking steps to revoke the license of the Sebring water treatment operator in the wake of the water crisis.
    "We have asked for assistance from the federal EPA's criminal investigation division," Griesmer said.

    Making progress

    It's unclear when the town's lead problem started, but a water advisory alert for pregnant women and children was posted December 3 on the Ohio EPA website.
    Sebring has made tremendous progress since then, according to Griesmer of the state EPA.
    New water sampling results show that only three of 28 homes affected remain above the federal-mandated level for lead, the Ohio EPA said.
    In addition, 15 water samples taken at three local schools show that all but one have lead levels that meet federal standards.
    But the Ohio EPA said it will not lift its drinking water advisory for pregnant women and children until two rounds of successful sampling in consecutive six-month periods.

    'It is still unacceptable'

    The numbers may be improving, but more work is needed, state officials said.
    The Ohio EPA said it suspects lead may be seeping into water from distribution lines and old homes with lead pipes, according to CNN affiliate WFMJ-TV in Youngstown.
    "While the water system has a clean water source and supply, it is still unacceptable that a few individual homes are experiencing corrosion that is causing high levels of lead," said Craig W. Butler, the Ohio EPA director.
    The state agency said it has ordered Sebring to continue water testing and provide health screenings and bottled water or filtration systems to homes with unsafe lead levels.
    It said it is providing $25,000 to the town for filtration systems.

    Water crisis in Michigan

    As Sebring works to restore safe water, Flint is facing a similar battle -- but on a much larger scale.
    Flint, which has a population of about 100,000, has been dealing with contaminated water since it switched its water source nearly two years ago.
    Michigan decided to save money by switching Flint's water supply from Lake Huron to the Flint River, a tributary known to locals for its filth.
    The corrosive water did not get adequate treatment, a class-action lawsuit alleges, and caused lead to seep into the city's water supply.