Since the 1970s, U.S. efforts to eradicate childhood lead poisoning have made remarkable progress. But the advances have been uneven. Legacy lead – in paint, plumbing, yards, well-water or even playgrounds – means that kids in many neighborhoods remain at a disproportionately high risk of poisoning.
A Reuters report, published in the LA Times, reveals that in L.A. County, more than 15,000 children under age 6 tested high for lead between 2011 and 2015. In all, Reuters identified 323 neighborhood areas where the rate of elevated tests was at least as high as in Flint. In 26 of them – including the two in San Marino, and some in economically stressed areas – the rate was at least twice Flint’s.
The L.A.-area findings are part of an ongoing Reuters examination of hidden lead hazards nationwide. Since last year, the news agency has identified more than 3,300 U.S. neighborhood areas with documented childhood lead poisoning rates double those found in Flint. Studies based on previously available data, surveying broad child populations across entire states or counties, usually couldn’t pinpoint these communities.
Despite decades of U.S. progress in curbing lead poisoning, millions of children remain at risk. Flint’s disaster is just one example of a preventable public health crisis that continues in hotspots coast to coast, Reuters has found.
Children are often exposed in decrepit housing. But in some U.S. areas, nearly a third of lead poisoning cases can be linked to home renovation projects, said Mary Jean Brown, a public health specialist at Harvard University and former director of the CDC’s lead prevention program.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s threshold for elevated lead is 5 micrograms per deciliter of blood. Children who test at or above that threshold warrant a public health response, the agency says. Even a slight elevation can reduce IQ and stunt childhood development. There’s no safe level of lead in children’s bodies.