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Report: Lead Poisoning Continues to Plague Parts of California

Peeling lead paint from homes built before 1978 is the primary source of lead poisoning in California, but lead also is found in some makeup from Afghanistan, turmeric from India and pottery from Mexico. (Bournedead/Morguefile)
Peeling lead paint from homes built before 1978 is the primary source of lead poisoning in California, but lead also is found in some makeup from Afghanistan, turmeric from India and pottery from Mexico. (Bournedead/Morguefile)
April 19, 2018

OAKLAND, Calif. — The issue of childhood lead poisoning is getting fresh attention after the recent release of an investigative series by KALW Radio in San Francisco.

Reuters data shows about 2 percent of California's children have high rates of lead in their blood - consistent with the national average. But parts of Oakland, San Francisco and Los Angeles are hotspots. And in one ZIP code in Fresno, more than 13 percent of blood tests on kids younger than six showed high levels of lead.

The problem in California has been traced mostly to contact with lead paint in houses built before 1978, when it was banned. Marissa Ortega-Welch, who reported the story with colleague Angela Johnston, said the housing crunch is making the problem worse.

"When you find out that your house is making your kids sick, you then have to decide between affordable housing or safe housing, right?” Ortega-Welch said. “And so in places where we're having this housing crisis, it can be really hard for families to find another place to live."

Data from the California Department of Public Health shows that as of 2014, the state had almost 9,000 youths under age 21 with high lead levels in their blood, and another 1,300 had severe lead poisoning - the lion's share younger than six. Long-term lead poisoning can lead to learning disabilities and behavioral issues.

Ortega-Welch said if your house has lead paint, you can contain it with regular home maintenance.

"Every couple of years, you want to make sure that you're painting over any places where the paint is peeling,” she said. “Because even if fresh, new, non-lead paint peels, it reveals the older layers of lead paint underneath, and that's what children are ingesting."

All children on public assistance are tested for lead in California. Last year lawmakers in Sacramento decided against a proposal to require lead testing for all children. A few California cities do send inspectors to visually check for hazards before new tenants come in. But they do not routinely test the paint for lead.

Suzanne Potter, Public News Service - CA