A new report from Reuters reveals that residents of the Fruitvale neighbourhood in Oakland, CA, are being exposed to far more dangerous levels of lead than residents of Flint, Michigan. However, in this case, the drinking water isn’t the reason for the contamination — it’s the lead-based paint still in use in many of the buildings there. When it chips or crumbles, the lead ends up being released into the air and the dirt nearby.
Flint, Michigan, has been in the news a lot, and not for good reason. The nation has been outraged over the ignorance elected officials have shown toward the public health crisis that saw water supplies contaminated with lead and tap water turn rust-brown as a result.
Health effects of lead exposure are severe, which makes the fact that the State Department of Environmental Quality knowingly failed to treat the Flint River with an anti-corrosive agent even more infuriating. Lead exposure in children can cause impaired cognition, behavioural disorders, hearing problems, and delayed puberty. In pregnant women, it can hinder fetal growth, and for everyone, it can affect the heart, kidneys, and nerves.
The crisis, which has been going on for years, continues to impact residents. In November 2016, the state of Michigan and city of Flint were ordered to deliver bottled water to homes whose filters may still be contaminated. By December of 2016, four officials were charged with felonies of false pretenses and conspiracy.
But now Reuters has revealed Flint isn’t the only place to be concerned about. Having just finished a comprehensive study of public health data in 21 states, they found that numerous U.S. counties and ZIP codes harbour children with dangerously high lead levels in their bodies, one of which is the Bay Area.
“Flint is no aberration,” Reuters explains. “In fact, it doesn’t even rank among the most dangerous lead hotspots in America.” The news agency reveals that in Flint, five percent of children screened citywide were found to have lead levels that significantly exceeded the CDC limit of 5 micrograms per deciliter. In the Mission District of the Bay Area, screenings showed a rate of 4.4% among 500 kids in 2012. In Bayview and Hunters Point, another screening of 500 revealed a rate of 3.44%. And tests in the ZIP codes of 94112 and 94134 ZIP revealed rates of about two percent.
So far, the most alarming lead levels in the Bay Area exist in Oakland’s 94601 ZIP code, covering Fruitvale and surrounding neighborhoods, where the rate among 500 children tested came in at over 7.5%, which is worse than Flint’s average of five percent (though some of their worst hit neighborhoods saw a rate of 11 percent). Though “elevated levels don’t necessarily indicate by how much local populations have blown the threshold; the data we have today diagnoses the problem, but not its severity. Still, even with all that considered, the figures we see here warrant attention—and alarm,” Curbed reports.
The most concerning part, however, is that for the rest of the Bay Area, there is simply no recent data to examine at all — a direct result of the CDC’s limited budget for lead screening, which has meant than many neighbourhoods must go entirely unchecked.
Reporters for Reuters discovered dangerous leads levels present in nearly 3,000 different locales within the country, and yet it’s been found that, for children, any degree of exposure is too much.
And yet it seems people aren’t exactly keen to hear about the issue. Reuters explains that there is a stigma attached to lead poisoning due to its psychological effects and because it’s typically more apparent in poor neighborhoods. Aside from industrial pollutants, lead exposure is more prevalent in older homes, with their aging pipes and paint.
If you’re concerned about your community, read the full report and take a look at Reuters‘ map of identified lead hotspots.
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