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Bill to Expand Lead Testing Rules

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

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A California lawmaker has introduced a bill that would alter the state’s Health and Safety Code and require all children ages 6 months to 6 years be tested for lead poisoning.

The proposed legislation comes after the shutdown of the Exide Technologies battery plant in Vernon and subsequent expedited soil cleanup that began in January.

Current regulations only require lead testing for children in government assistance programs, as well as for those who spend a significant amount of time in buildings built before 1978, when lead-based paint was banned.

“Given the ages of California’s infrastructure, lead exposure risks are ubiquitous,” Assemblyman Bill Quirk said. “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.”

Exide’s Role

An analysis by the state Department of Public Health, released in April 2016, had found that 3.58 percent of young children who lived within a mile of the Exide Technologies facility had elevated levels of lead in 2012, compared with 2.41 percent of children who lived farther away.

The plant announced its shutdown in spring 2015 (it had sat idle for over a year because it could not comply with environmental standards), which allowed the company to acknowledge criminal conduct of illegal storage and transportation of hazardous waste but avoid criminal charges. The site and surrounding area’s soil cleanup effort was supposed to be delayed until an environmental review is completed this summer, but after criticism by community groups, lawmakers and health officials, state lawmakers expedited the process.

The cleanup spans 10,000 residential properties as well as daycare centers, schools and parks across seven Los Angeles County communities surrounding the former car battery-smelting plant.

The health analysis examined blood tests from 12,000 children living within 4.5 miles of the Exide facility in 2012, the last year it was in full operation. It included only children under age of 6, who are at greatest risk for developmental problems, learning disabilities and other harmful effects of lead.

Leaders of the study noted, however, that the Exide plant is not the only source of harmful emissions in California.

Calif. Department of Toxic Substances Control, Public Domain, via Wikimedia Commons

The health analysis examined blood tests from 12,000 children living within 4.5 miles of the Exide facility in 2012, the last year it was in full operation. It included only children under age of 6, who are at greatest risk for developmental problems, learning disabilities and other harmful effects of lead.

“While there are multiple sources of contamination harming southeast Los Angeles children, this report indicates that those living near Exide face an increased burden of lead, likely associated with the facility,” said Jill Johnston, a USC professor of preventive medicine who studies lead exposure in the affected neighborhoods.

Other Lead Issues in California

While Exide polluted water in California (much like corroded pipes polluted a drinking water supply in Flint) a recent study looked at the lead exposure linked to different professions in California and shed light on which workers were in danger of lead poisoning.

According to the report from the state's public health agency, more than 6,000 California workers in munitions, manufacturing and other industries such as construction have elevated levels of lead in their blood.

From 2012 to 2014, 38,440 workers had their blood tested for lead, and 6,051 workers were identified with an elevated level of 5 or more micrograms of lead per deciliter (about 3.3 ounces) of blood.

Kaiser Health News reported that about 60 percent of workers with higher exposures — above 10 micrograms per deciliter of blood — worked in manufacturing, for companies that make and recycle batteries, aircraft and aircraft parts, ships, plumbing and pipefitting fixtures, and metal valves, according to the report. Workers with the highest blood lead levels — 40 micrograms or more per deciliter — mostly worked at shooting ranges or in ammunition manufacturing, gun repair, and firearm instruction, although some worked in other metal industries, painting and construction.

The researchers noted that while many of the industries pinpointed in this study do routinely test workers (such as the manufacturing or ammunition industries), other companies such as painting contractors typically do not.

Abby Lanes, CC-BY-SA 2.0, via Flickr

Workers with the highest blood lead levels mostly worked at shooting ranges or in ammunition manufacturing, gun repair, and firearm instruction, although some worked in other metal industries, painting and construction.

There has also been controversy on the residential side as well, as a California judge ordered paint manufacturers to abate lead-based paint inside millions of homes (totaling about $1.15 billion); the companies are still awaiting a hearing on their appeal in a case that's been in the courts for over a decade.

Lead Across the Country

A December 2016 Reuters analysis looked at areas in the United States that had higher levels poisoning rates than Flint, Michigan.

According to the Reuters report, more than 7 percent of children screened in the Fruitvale neighborhood of Oakland had elevated levels of lead in their blood. In Selma, more than 6 percent of children tested showed high levels of lead.

In comparison, about 5 percent of children tested in Flint showed high levels of lead in their blood after the drinking water was found to be contaminated.

Although increasing lead testing might be seen as a good thing, some are focusing on the bigger picture: Scientists don’t actually agree on what should be considered safe levels of lead.

In 2012, the CDC lower the threshold of what was considered a dangerous level of lead for children from 10 micrograms of lead per deciliter of blood to 5. CBS reported in February that the CDC was considering lowering the threshold to 3 micrograms of lead per deciliter.

   

Tagged categories: Business matters; Contaminants; Environmental Protection; Health and safety; Lead; Lead; Safety

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