Children in parts of San Jose’s East Side are exposed to dangerous lead levels at a rate higher than the national average, according to a new report by Reuters.
Prompted by the lead poisoning crisis in Flint, Michigan, the news agency examined public health records in 21 states to find out where efforts to eradicate the toxin have fallen short. What Reuters found is that the American landscape is rife with lead hotspots, including parts of the Bay Area.
“Flint is no aberration,” the news agency wrote. “In fact, it doesn’t even rank among the most dangerous lead hotspots in America.”
The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) released data on 13 Bay Area zip codes, including one in Oakland where children show far higher blood lead levels than their counterparts in Flint. Of the seven zip codes listed in Santa Clara and San Mateo counties, two exceeded the nationwide average for elevated lead levels: San Jose’s Alum Rock district and East Palo Alto.
Since 2012, the CDC threshold for elevated blood lead levels in children up to 6 years old is 5 micrograms per deciliter. Testing any higher than that warrants a public health response, according to agency policy. Because even the slightest amount of lead stunts growth, lowers IQ and has been linked to a number of other developmental delays, however, the CDC is now considering lowering that benchmark by 30 percent to 3.5 micrograms per deciliter, Reuters reported last week.
In Flint, 5 percent of children surpassed that CDC threshold; in Oakland’s Fruitvale neighborhood, 7.57 percent; in San Jose’s Alum Rock area, 3.01 percent.
Even more startling, however, is the lack of data available on the rest of the city, region and nation. California requires blood lead level tests for all children covered by Medicaid, but federal funding covered only one in three enrollees, Reuters found. Meanwhile, the CDC data cited in the Reuters report only covers 200 California counties and only 27,000 children tested in Santa Clara County.
While lead poisoning in Flint comes from corrosive water leaching lead from aging pipes, California’s stems primarily from “legacy lead” in old homes, industrial pollutants, well water and playgrounds.
Although lead paint was outlawed for residential use in 1978, health officials say it continues to take a toll on children’s health. In 2013, Santa Clara County and nine other California jurisdictions won a landmark $1.15 billion judgment against companies that used to manufacture lead paint. The defendants, which include Sherwin Williams, are now challenging the ruling in the Sixth District Court of Appeal.
If the court upholds the judgment, it would set a legal precedent as well as give several counties hundreds of millions of dollars to fund lead abatement programs.