A high percentage of children in both wealthy and poor neighborhoods of Los Angeles have been found with elevated lead levels in their blood.
According to Reuters, more than 17 percent of children tested in the San Marino neighborhood showed lead levels higher than 5 micrograms per deciliter of blood, above which the Centers for Disease Control considers unsafe.
The figures for San Marino were made public only following a Freedom of Information Request by Reuters to L.A. County authorities.
"This is a very serious matter and, as the mayor, I really want to further explore it," San Marino Mayor Richard Sun told Reuters.
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Sun has ordered city officials to begin investigating potential sources of exposure.
Across L.A.C., more than 15,000 children under the age of 6 were found to have elevated lead levels in their blood between 2011 and 2015. Reuters identified 323 neighborhoods in which lead levels were higher than those of children in Flint, Michigan, where a crisis of widespread lead poisoning made national headlines.
26 neighborhoods had lead poisoning rates twice as high as those in Flint.
"A lot of people don't even think of the West Coast as a place where kids get poisoned," Linda Kite from the Healthy Homes Collaborative told Reuters. "The biggest problem we have is medical apathy. Many doctors don't test children for lead."
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This was the experience of Amanda Gries, who had to fight to get her son Wyatt tested prior to his first birthday after her GP said it was not necessary. The test showed that Wyatt had twice the recommended lead levels in his bloodstream.
While San Marino is a wealthy area with property prices approaching those in Beverly Hills, poorer areas are often severely affected. Reuters discovered that in one low-income area in the south of L.A., 64 children within a six-block area tested positive for elevated lead levels.
The effects of lead poisoning, which include developmental delays and speech impairment, are irreversible. But there are concerns that budget cuts by the federal government will prevent programs put in place to combat lead poisoning from continuing their work.
"We're aware of lots of areas where homes or soil contain significant levels of lead, and those can represent an urgent need to act," Maurice Pantoja, chief environmental health specialist for a county program aimed at tackling the issue, told Reuters. "Any fewer resources toward poisoning prevention would be a tragedy."
In Flint, where the lead crisis reached a high point in 2014, residents still must use filters to make the water safe. A total of 18,000 lead water pipes are being removed, which, according to NPR, will take three more years to complete.