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Lead Levels in the Blood of Young Children in Los Angeles Exceeds Those in Flint

It has been revealed that over 300 neighbourhoods in L.A. have higher rates of children with elevated levels of lead than those in Flint, Michigan. In a recent investigation, Reuters news service asked the Los Angeles County Department of Health for records of blood tests. Their findings have brought to light a number of disturbing statistics, alarming both residents and city leaders.

More than 17 percent of small children tested in L.A. have shown elevated levels of lead in their blood, according to previously undisclosed L.A. County health data. In comparison, the children tested for lead in Flint, Michigan, during the peak of that city’s water contamination crisis was recorded at just 5 percent.

“Even a slight elevation [of lead] can reduce IQ and stunt childhood development,” the Reuters report said. “There’s no safe level of lead in children’s bodies.”

Two neighboring San Marino census tracts have been cited as the hotspots for childhood lead exposure in the L.A. area. In total, the investigation identified 323 neighborhood areas where the rate of lead levels in evaluated blood was at least as high as in Flint – in 26 of them the rate was at least twice Flint’s. Some of these areas, including the two in San Marino, have been described as economically stressed.

lead levels

The investigation is the latest release of an ongoing examination of hidden lead levels across the United States. More than 3,300 U.S. neighbourhood areas with documented childhood lead poisoning rates doubled those found in Flint; and have been discovered as part of the project since last year.

Exposure from old paint, drinking water, and soil have been widely researched. In comparison, the risks associated with imported food, medicine and pottery from China, Mexico, India and other countries, are still relatively unknown.

The data obtained from the Los Angeles County Department of Health contains blood sample data of nearly 1,550 census tracts, or county subdivisions. Each of these subdivisions has an average population of around 4,000, and shows the number of children tested, along with the rate of those that have high levels of lead in their blood.

Currently, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has a reference level for children with high levels of lead noted at 5 micrograms per deciliter of blood. The effects of lead poisoning are irreversible, and are particularly detrimental to children’s health.

The statistics uncovered by this investigation highlight the urgent need for an increase in resources – including assistance from the CDC, the department of Housing and Urban Development and the Environmental Protection Agency – to curb this troubling trend.

“We’re aware of lots of areas where homes or soil contain significant levels of lead, and those can represent an urgent need to act,” said Maurice Pantoja, chief environmental health specialist for the county program. “Any fewer resources toward poisoning prevention would be a tragedy.”

However, with Trump’s planned federal budget proposals, funds for many lead-related programs will be cut. Old homes, which are particularly common in poverty stricken areas of the city, are believed to be a leading contributor to the elevated rates in some of the L.A. neighbourhoods. Almost half of the county’s homes in L.A. were built before 1960 – eighteen years before lead was banned from household paint.

lead levels

As the paint ages, it peels, chips and can even be ground into toxic dust. Young children between the ages of one and three are particularly at risk in such environments, as they will often put their hands in their mouths after crawling or playing on surfaces covered in lead paint. In fact, nearly a third of lead poisoning cases in some areas in the U.S. can be linked to home renovation projects.

After the investigation’s release, California cities and lawmakers began efforts to push for new initiatives to protect children. Among these is a bill that will require screening for all small children

“I strongly support blood lead testing,” said U.S. Congresswoman Lucille Roybal-Allard, who represents part of L.A. County. “It’s important that residents have information about the threats they may face in their communities.”

The examination has brought to light a number of factors that are contributing to the elevated levels of lead in the blood of many American children. The pollution of soil and water sources, inadequate screening policies and the lack of development in underprivileged areas all contribute to the problem. It is hoped that by uncovering these hidden areas that change will be brought about to save the affected communities, especially young children, and future generations from the devastating effects of lead poisoning.

To read the full investigation, click here.

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