A lead poisoning scandal has struck a second US town, with schools closed Monday in Sebring, Ohio, and the water treatment plant operator accused of falsifying reports.
Elevated lead levels were detected months ago but local officials failed to warn residents until last week despite pressure from the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency. Some 8,100 people rely on the Sebring water system.
The agency said it has "reason to suspect that the operator falsified reports" and has asked the federal Environmental Protection Agency's criminal division for help with the investigation.
The Ohio case comes as a special prosecutor was appointed to investigate how the city of Flint, Michigan, exposed 100,000 residents to lead poisoning after cutting water treatment costs.
Officials are accused of ignoring months of health warnings about foul-smelling water, even as residents complained it was making them sick.
President Barack Obama weighed in on the Flint crisis last week, saying he would be beside himself if the health of his children had been placed at risk in such a way.
Lead exposure is harmful to everyone, but it can have devastating impacts on young children by irreversibly harming brain development. It has been shown to lower intelligence, stunt growth and lead to aggressive and anti-social behavior.
A spokeswoman for the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency said she could not release further details about what types of reports were allegedly falsified or speculate as to why Sebring officials failed to warn the public.
"We were working with them for quite a while trying to get information out of them and get them to do the right thing," Heidi Griesmer told AFP.
"The games the village of Sebring was playing - they gave us incomplete data time and time again, and were not providing documents when they were due," she said.
"It made it difficult for our field office to determine whether or not they notified their customers."
The agency is still trying to piece together exactly what happened.
It appears as though the problem was detected when the local OEPA field office was reviewing Sebring's routine testing reports, Griesmer said. Those tests found elevated lead levels in six houses.