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California govt. bureaucrats hiding evidence of high lead levels in blood of children living near Exide battery plant

Lead poisoning

(NaturalNews) In 2014, the state of California began a lead-cleanup effort in the city of Vernon. Widespread contamination had come from a nearby car battery recycling plant that, for years, had been repeatedly cited for improper disposal of hazardous waste. The plant was closed in 2015, after state regulators had allowed it to operate for decades without proper permits. Owner Exide agreed to shutter the plant in a deal to avoid criminal prosecution.

But even though the state has access to medical records showing high levels of lead in the blood of children in certain neighborhoods around the plant, it has yet to share that critical information with any of the agencies directing the cleanup efforts.

Lead is a potent neurotoxin that is particularly dangerous to the developing nervous systems of young children. Lead damage is permanent and irreversible. There is no safe level of exposure.

Health departments stonewalling cleanup effort

The state's cleanup effort is massive and daunting. As many as 10,000 properties within a 1.7-mile radius of the plant are believed to be contaminated. Soil samples have indicated that 99 percent of houses may have lead levels exceeding the cleanup-required threshold of 80 parts per million. Of those, 2,500 homes may have levels exceeding 1,000 parts per million.

Community members have repeatedly complained that the state is dragging its feet on the cleanup effort. Those complaints were given new life recently when the Los Angeles Times revealed that the state Department of Toxic Substances Control — which is responsible for the cleanup — has been trying unsuccessfully for two years to get state and county health agencies to provide it with the census tract-level information on lead levels in blood. In September, it finally filed a formal request with the state Department of Public Health.

In a stonewalling response, the Health Department said that, due to medical privacy laws, it could not release this information — even though the Toxic Substances Department asked for census-tract data, not individual data. The Health Department says it is still analyzing whether people near the plant even have elevated blood levels at all!

The blood data come from a voluntary blood-screening program funded by Exide, upon order of the Toxic Substances Department. But the data from the program go to state and county health departments. Not even summaries of the data have been shared with the Toxics Department.

Health experts say the census tract-level data are a critical tool that could be used to identify the neighborhoods most in need of urgent action. The longer the state waits, the more severely children in those areas will be poisoned.

"Officials should rely on blood lead data and soil lead levels to identify hot spots and target cleanup," said lead and children's environmental health researcher Bruce Lanphear of Simon Fraser University. "Otherwise they will be shooting in the dark."

Same data used elsewhere with great effectiveness

Indeed, such data are being used to direct other cleanup efforts nationwide. In Flint, Michigan, for example, the state is using lead blood level mapping to identify the neighborhoods most affected by lead-contaminated water.

"It's easy," said pediatrician Mona Hanna-Attisha, a professor at Michigan State University. "And it should be done more."

Notably, the lead contamination of Flint's water was discovered months after the California cleanup process began.

"There shouldn't be any reason why we don't know what's happening," said Los Angeles County Supervisor Hilda Solis. "If people don't prioritize that, then they're going to look over these communities."

Time is of the essence, health experts continue to warn.

"Once the exposures have occurred, there's no amount of special education, nothing that can rewind the clock," said Jane Williams of California Communities Against Toxics.

Sources for this article include:




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