Children in at least 29 California neighborhoods have lead poisoning rates at least as high as Flint, MI, a Reuters investigation has found, with some far outpacing the levels of poisoning found in Flint.
Blood test results obtained by Reuters show that in one Fresno neighborhood, 13.6% of children under 6 who were tested had dangerously elevated lead levels in their blood. During the Flint water crisis, 5% of of children tested had elevated lead levels.
Fresno is a majority Latinx county, according to U.S. Census data. Like in Flint, lead contamination is likely to disproportionately affect children of color and low-income children who are more likely to live in housing with older paint and water pipes.
For children under 6 years old, the CDC recommends public heath action if anything above five micrograms per deciliter (µg/dL) is found in their blood. But according to the CDC, "No safe blood lead level in children has been identified. Lead exposure can affect nearly every system in the body."
These blood tests alone can't conclusively point to one cause for the children's lead levels, but possible causes include contaminated water, soil, or lead-infused paint.
The data was gathered from tests in 2012 of about a quarter of California ZIP codes, and only included areas with 250 or more children who were considered "high risk," the agency reported, which could mean that more kids have been exposed to lead but aren't being counted.
One California assemblyman, Bill Quirk, introduced a bill in the California Legislature last week that would require lead testing for all children in the state between the ages of 6 months and 6 years.
"Given the ages of California’s infrastructure, lead exposure risks are ubiquitous," Quirk told KPCC. "The current screening process only tests certain children. Better data can help us better identify clusters and arm the state with a thorough, more comprehensive response."