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Ohio EPA Fires Two Staffers Over Response to Lead in Sebring Water

The Ohio Environmental Protection Agency has fired two employees and disciplined a third over their handling of high lead levels in drinking water in the town of Sebring, the agency announced Wednesday.

Residents of the town of around 4,400 were warned of high lead levels found in some homes on Jan. 21 — more than six weeks after the Ohio EPA first warned village officials there might be a problem on Dec. 3, the agency said.

A worker at the Ohio EPA central office was fired for not ensuring lab results were received by the field office, and that employee's supervisor was fired for "not properly managing an employee who had an existing record of performance issues," the agency said.

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Pallets of water, ready for distribution in the community, sit at the Sebring Community Center, Tuesday, Jan. 26, 2016 in Sebring, Ohio. Mark Gillispie / AP

And a manager at the EPA's Northeast district office will be demoted for not immediately notifying higher-ups "when it became clear that the village wasn't taking their water review seriously" after the Dec. 3 warning, the Ohio EPA said. None of the employees were named.

State environmental officials said the operator of the village water plant waited months to notify people about high levels of lead coming from their pipes.

The operator of the plant has called the allegations "a blatant lie," according to The Associated Press. His license has been revoked. Sebring Mayor Michael J. Pinkerton could not immediately be reached for comment Wednesday.

High lead levels were found in seven homes, NBC affiliate WFMJ reported, and the Ohio EPA offered free water testing for the entire village.

The Ohio EPA, which is a state agency separate from the federal EPA, said it "has made revisions to its operating procedures involving lead in drinking water to ensue this failure is not repeated."

Forty samples out of 900 taken since then had elevated lead levels, the Ohio EPA said in a statement. The agency said the water is safe in some of the affected homes, as long as residents run the tap for several minutes.

Lead poisoning can cause irreversible developmental problems in children.

The lead scare in Sebring comes amid a water crisis in Flint, Michigan, where government cost-cutting and political bungling have been blamed on the city's population being exposed to lead poisoning for months before they were advised to stop drinking the water.