Lead Exposure for Children in Urban Centers in CA

Photo: ThinkProgress

SANTA ANA, CA – A ThinkProgress investigation has revealed decades of build-up have left invisible mountains of lead in America’s urban centers,  including Santa Ana.

A series of soil tests conducted on a family’s former rental property by a ThinkProgress reporter showed lead levels that were as much as ten times higher than what the California Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment (OEHHA) considers dangerous for children.

That home, where the number of children tested with dangerous levels of lead in their blood, exceeds the state average by 64 percent. The investigation found hazardous levels of lead in the soil in almost a quarter of more than 1,000 soil samples tested in homes and public spaces throughout the city.

For years, the state’s childhood blood lead level data has shown that Santa Ana has a greater number of lead poisoned children compared with children in other Orange County cities, but the Orange County Health Care Agency (OCHCA) cannot explain why and has not mapped where hot spots of contamination may exist so parents can avoid them. County data show that out of 16 environmental investigations conducted from 2013 to 2015 by the Health Care Agency, only three were done in Santa Ana.

Instead, the agency has relied on public awareness campaigns and outreach that do not emphasize soil exposure, even though the state Department of Public Health says dust and soil contaminated by leaded gasoline is the most significant environmental lead contaminant in the state, and the dominant source of lead exposure to children in California due to decades of leaded gasoline use that deposited particles of lead in the soil.

In interviews, county health care agency officials said the county has not been able to draw any conclusions about possible source trends from the environmental investigations the agency has conducted in the past. They say this is primarily because there aren’t many such cases to analyze.

Legal advocates and public health experts also say that state and local health care agencies are using standards that aren’t stringent enough to protect children from lead exposure.

Another study conducted on airborne lead in California’s South Coast Air Basin, which includes Orange County, found that lead particles deposited in the soil during the years of leaded gasoline use continued to pollute the air, even after lead was banned from gasoline, due to the resuspension of these particles into the air.

The federal government doesn’t urge public health intervention at levels below 5 mcg/dL for young children, and neither does the state of California. And many laboratories that test children’s blood lead levels don’t measure below 3 mcg/dL, making it impossible to track precise levels for children in this range.

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