Sacramento resident Sandra Levario said her grandson loved to play in her backyard as a toddler. Levario’s house lies in the shadow of a now-shuttered gun range. Despite its closure in 2014 and the fact that toxic levels of lead dust had coated nearly every surface of the building for years, the public was not informed of the lead hazard. But after her grandson developed attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, Levario suspected a connection to lead poisoning. “Now I won’t let my grandkids even play in the yard.”
California is undergoing a different lead crisis than Flint, Michigan. In some cases, the lead in children’s blood is two or three times as high as found in Flint. While Flint’s well-publicized problem came from water traveling through lead pipes, California’s problem is harder to find and fix because much of the lead poisoning comes from legacy lead or contamination left over from the past— lead paint, leaded gasoline, industrial waste and even neighborhood gun ranges. This lead is in the soil in school playgrounds, on the walls of apartment buildings, in parks and vacant lots where children play baseball and in the air. And people don’t want to talk about it.
In one downtown Fresno zip code, 93701, nearly 14 percent of children younger than six years old had lead levels at or above five micrograms per deciliter of blood, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s current threshold for an elevated reading. Contrast this with Flint’s recent crisis, where only five percent of children tested above the five microgram level for lead. In all, the Reuters‘ report found at least 29 Golden State neighborhoods where children had elevated lead levels. In Humboldt County where 303 children were tested, more than 10 percent showed high lead levels, according to the 2012 California Department of Public Health (CDPH) study.
In the 90011 zip code of Los Angeles, where a three-bedroom home goes for under $245,000, over five percent of children under six showed lead poisoning levels of 210 mcg/dL. In a neighboring district of Los Angeles, houses in zip code 90703, where a cheaper three bedroom home might cost $585,000, lead levels were above 1 mcg/dL in only 0.22 percent of children tested. But it is not all about the wealth. In the 92253 area of Riverside, California, where zero out of 353 children tested found positive for high lead levels, a three bedroom home can be had for under $160,000.
California does not require lead testing. So there is limited or no state data on lead levels in children in many California neighborhoods, including some of California’s most expensive neighborhoods which include: 94027 – Atherton, 94062 – Woodside, 91302 – Hidden Hills, 94010 – Hillsborough, 94022 – Los Altos Hills, 94920 – Belvedere, 90210 – Beverly Hills, and 90402 – Santa Monica. Yet, the CDPH has known about the elevated levels for five years.
“The challenge is collecting the data and having the children tested in order to determine how dangerous the situation is.” Larry Brooks, director of operations for the Alameda County Healthy Homes Department added that residents are reluctant to report the hazards, fearing landlords might retaliate.
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