Worse Than Flint

Childhood lead poisoning in 29 California neighborhoods

By Louisa Oreskes

More than two-dozen communities in California have experienced recent rates of childhood lead poisoning rivaling or exceeding those in Flint, Michigan, according to data collected by Reuters and detailed in a report published Wednesday, March 22, 2017.1  

Following an article in December documenting nearly 3,000 towns, cities, and neighborhoods nationwide that have lead poisoning rates double those found in 2016 along the Flint River in Michigan, Reuters’ data-gathering uncovered 29 California neighborhoods where children have elevated rates of lead: There were particularly high rates of exposure in the Bay Area and downtown Los Angeles. In one Fresno County zip code, 13.6 percent of blood tests on children under six came back high for lead, compared to five percent across the city of Flint during its recent water contamination crisis. And in nine other zip code areas in Fresno County, lead levels in children’s blood were similar to the levels found 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 five micrograms per deciliter is considered elevated for children under six.

According to California’s Public Health Department, the state tests only at-risk children, which includes those enrolled in Medicaid or living in older housing. This selective type of testing results in a higher percentage of children showing lead exposure in California compared to states where all children are tested. To address the broader problem, California Assemblyman Bill Quirk, who chairs the state legislature’s committee on Environmental Safety and Toxic Materials, introduced a bill that would require blood lead screening for all children.

The tests don’t indicate the source of the lead exposure, but some common potential sources include crumbling old paint, contaminated soil, and tainted drinking water.

Vice News, March 22, 2017

1 “Exclusive: Lead poisoning afflicts neighborhoods across California”

By Joshua Schneyer and M.B. Pell