SEBRING, Ohio – Five children so far have elevated lead levels in a northeastern Ohio village where lead-tainted drinking water has been detected, health officials said Wednesday.
It's too early to know whether the positive tests are directly linked to the tap water in Sebring near Youngstown or if they could be tied to other sources such as lead paint, county and state health officials said.
The Ohio Health Department sent a team of investigators to meet with the children and their families on Wednesday to determine if the water could be the cause, said director Richard Hodges.
Almost all lead cases are usually linked to sources other than water, he said. "We can't discount the fact the water may be playing a role," he said.
Residents in Sebring and two other communities were told late last week that high levels of lead had been found last summer in the drinking water.
Tests over the last few days have shown that lead readings have gone down, but a few places still were showing levels above federal guidelines.
Parents and residents are angry that months passed before they were told about tainted water. Environmental regulators said the operator of the small water system failed to notify the public and falsified reports, but plant superintendent James Bates denied he falsified reports, calling the allegations an "outright lie."
The federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says children who test above five micrograms of lead per deciliter are considered to have been exposed to lead, which can cause learning disabilities and behavior problems in children.
Many researchers say that no amount is safe for youngsters.
Krystle Welty, of Sebring, was told to see a doctor after her 1-year-old daughter showed a lead level of 6.7 following a screening on Sunday.
She said she breastfeeds and sometimes puts tap water in her daughter's juice.
"I'm extremely angry and worried," she said. "It's all overwhelming."
Three of the five children who tested above the CDC threshold live on the same street, said Chris Cunningham, director of nursing with the Mahoning County Health Department.
All of the children were tested Sunday at a clinic organized after reports of lead in the water surfaced. None of the readings in the five were high enough to require specific medical treatment outlined by the CDC, Cunningham said.
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency requires all drinking water utilities to test for lead. The frequency of the testing can range from six months to every three years, depending on past lead levels.
The last time Sebring tested its drinking water was in 2012 because it had not experienced problems with lead in previous years, according to the state EPA.