Reuters News Agency reports that dozens of California communities have experienced recent rates of childhood lead poisoning that surpass those of Flint, Michigan, with one Fresno locale showing rates nearly three times higher.
High rates of childhood exposure have been found in a swath of the Bay Area and downtown Los Angeles. The figures show that, despite national strides in eliminating lead-based products, hazards remain in areas far from the Rust Belt or East Coast regions filled with old housing and legacy industry.
In one central Fresno zip code, 13.6 percent of blood tests on children under six years old came back high for lead. That compares to 5 percent across the city of Flint during its recent water contamination crisis. In all, Reuters found at least 29 Golden State neighborhoods where children had elevated lead tests at rates at least as high as in Flint.
Once a common ingredient in household paint, gasoline, and plumbing systems, lead is a neurotoxin that causes irreparable health effects, like cognitive deficiency and attention disorders in young children. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says any lead level over 5 micrograms per deciliter is considered elevated for children under 6.
The CDC’s fact sheet for lead levels in children states that common home renovation activities like sanding, cutting, and demolition can create hazardous lead dust and chips by disturbing lead-based paint. These can be harmful to adults and children.
Reuters found that 2 percent of all California children tested in 2012 had lead levels at or above the federal standard. In its December report, Reuters tracked California lead exposure rates based on the neighborhood-level data available at the time. The report showed hotspots such as the Fruitvale neighborhood of Oakland, where 7.6 percent of children tested high, prompting media coverage and new initiatives to protect children.
California’s Public Health Department said comparisons between the state’s blood lead testing results and those from other states aren’t warranted. It said the state tests children deemed at risk for lead exposure, such as those enrolled in Medicaid or living in older housing.