An investigation from Reuters found more than 17% of children
in LA county to test positive for elevated blood lead levels;
how lead poisoning persists across rich and poor has
become the center of discussion in the report.
This Thursday, Reuters released a detailed report about a lead poisoning crisis in Los Angeles. According to the report, more than 17% of children in L.A County have elevated blood lead levels - more than double the rate of children in Flint, Michigan.
The report is part of an ongoing investigation led by Reuters to identify national lead hazards. Despite national initiatives such as the RRP program, lead poisoning is still a health risk to millions of children. The threshold for elevated blood lead levels is just 5 micrograms per deciliter of blood; even slight elevations can stunt cognitive and physical development and manifest as nausea, migraines and fevers.
In Los Angeles, more than half of the county's homes were built prior to 1960 - much earlier than the national lead paint ban in 1978. In addition to old homes with peeling paint, the diverse county sees many imported goods from countries such as China and Mexico, which have more relaxed regulations on lead levels.
About 323 different neighborhoods across Los Angeles County tested positive for elevated blood lead levels. What is unique about the findings is that lead poisoning was found in economically stressed neighborhoods as well as affluent neighborhoods. One such affected neighborhood is San Marino, California - where homes routinely list for $2.9 million. Typically, lead poisoning disproportionately affects lower income neighborhoods where city leaders aren't able to fund remediations.
The report suggests there might be some bias in testing for lead poisoning in affluent neighborhoods. Often, residents aren't even aware of lead hazards and even less assume their neighborhoods are at risk.
"A lot of people don't even think of the West Coast as a place where kids get poisoned. Many doctors don't test children for lead," Linda Kite, executive director at Healthy Homes Collaborative, said.
California's current health policy is to test children with known risk factors, such as enrollment in government assistance programs. While it does help low-income families who might otherwise not receive care, the policy can altogether miss other poisoned children. In the report, a family living in an affluent L.A neighborhood had to push for their son to be tested for lead poisoning after they discovered peeling paint in their century-old house.
"The message was, 'Don't worry, he's not as risk.' It was like he [my son] didn't fit the profile," Amanda Gries, the mother of the lead poisoned child, said in an interview.
Lawmakers are stepping up in light of recent findings to protect their communities. One such initiative is a bill from the state's Committee on Environmental Safety and Toxic Materials. The bill will require lead screening for all children in Los Angeles. In truth, lead poisoning can affect both rich and poor neighborhoods - and only awareness will help curb remediate these hazards.
To read more about the Reuters national lead hazard investigation, visit their interactive website. To learn more about lead work and become certified, visit Zack Academy's lead renovation FAQs.