California lawmakers approve bills to improve prevention of lead poisoning

SACRAMENTO, Calif. – Two bills that take important steps toward the prevention of lead poisoning have cleared California's legislature and now move to Gov. Gavin Newsom, who is expected to sign them into law.

Lead exposure remains a problem. The primary sources of lead exposure are paint in older, badly maintained residential units and contaminated drinking water.

Removing lead paint

Senate Bill 1076, authored by Sen. Bob Archuleta (D-Pico Rivera), would require California to take over administration and enforcement of the federal lead paint renovation and remediation program, which has not been consistently enforced in California. The bill requires contractors renovating homes and buildings to be trained to remove lead paint safely and comply with the Environmental Protection Agency’s Lead Renovation, Repair, and Painting Rule.

“S.B. 1076 will protect children from lead poisoning,” said Archuleta. “Under this proposal, California will follow the lead of 14 other states and streamline state and federal requirements to address confusing inconsistencies and move enforcement of this new program down to the local level.”

Lead-based paint was used in more than 38 million homes in the U.S. until it was banned from residential use, in 1978. Homes built before the ban are presumed to have lead paint and are considered at high risk of lead contamination. This presumption applies to almost 7.8 million homes in California, including over 2.6 million in Los Angeles County alone, that were built before 1980.

“S.B. 1076 will empower code enforcement officers to address the incidents in which untrained workers create environmental hazards that can result in children and adults being lead-poisoned,” said Jamie Zeller, president of the California Association of Code Enforcement Officers.

Children from birth to age 6, whose brains are developing, and pregnant women, are the most likely victims of unsafe work practices in which they inhale or ingest lead paint dust created by unsafe work practices. Passage of this bill will help us prevent those tragedies from occurring,” she said.

Older housing may have chipped or peeling lead-based paint. Renovation, repair and painting projects also disturb surfaces covered in lead paint and create lead-contaminated dust that endangers both young and old residents and workers repairing the building. Dust contaminated with lead can be inhaled, ingested or tracked to other locations.

“Lead is extremely harmful to children and adults, but young children are most sensitive to its potent effects,” said Susan Little, senior advocate for California government affairs at the Environmental Working Group.

“Exposure to even minute amounts of lead, like those in household dust, can harm a child’s developing brain and nervous system,” added Little. “The damage lead does to children is irreversible.”

There’s no safe level of exposure to lead, a potent neurotoxin that can cause brain damage and lower IQ, among other health problems. Because of their developing bodies, babies and young children under age 6 are especially vulnerable to lead’s effects. Some children consume paint chips and inhale lead-contaminated dust due to their greater proximity to the floor and their tendency to explore the world by putting things in their mouths.  

EWG and the California Association of Code Enforcement Officers are co-sponsors of S.B. 1076.

Blood sample testing

Assembly Bill 2326, authored by Assembly Majority Leader Eloise Gómez Reyes (D-Colton), would improve communications between laboratories testing blood samples for lead and health care providers. Blood lead levels in children are usually detected in screenings during routine doctor visits.

The legislation would require laboratories performing blood lead analyses to provide additional details to the California Department of Public Health and other local agencies to help child case management and assessments of environmental conditions that may contribute to child lead exposure. State agencies would then have the information needed to remove the sources of the child’s lead exposure.

“In 2018, more than 7,000 children in California were found to have elevated blood lead levels,” said Reyes. “This is especially concerning because we know that lead poisoning does not impact all children equally.”

“Children living in poverty, children enrolled in Medicaid, children living in older housing and children of color have disproportionately higher levels of lead exposure when compared to the average child. We need a more robust public health system to prevent these exposures from harming our children,” Reyes said.

The Childhood Lead Poisoning Prevention Act of 1991 requires the California State Department of Public Health to administer a program to respond to, and manage, cases of childhood lead poisoning. Caseworkers provide information to families, coordinate with healthcare providers, and conduct environmental investigations for lead sources in children’s homes. For caseworkers to identify lead-poisoned children, they must have clear contact information for the children – and they don’t always receive it. 

“For decades, we’ve known how children are poisoned by lead,” said Little. “It is appalling that so many young children are still being exposed to lead. Kids with elevated lead levels in their blood can have serious real-world consequences that last the rest of their lives.”

EWG sponsored the legislation.

Reyes’ bill would also change the threshold for reporting blood lead levels, from 10 micrograms per deciliter to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s blood lead reference value of 3.5 micrograms per deciliter. Laboratories would then have three working days to report this elevated blood lead level to the relevant public health agencies.

“A.B. 2326 will address information gaps by requiring laboratories to report additional available information when performing blood lead analysis on blood drawn in California and by aligning the state’s blood lead level standards with those of the federal government,” Reyes said.

“The bill will result in more children receiving appropriate intervention for missed tests and elevated blood lead levels,” she added.

Newsom has 30 days to act on the hundreds of bills on his desk, including S.B. 1076 and A.B. 2326.


The Environmental Working Group is a nonprofit, non-partisan organization that empowers people to live healthier lives in a healthier environment. Through research, advocacy and unique education tools, EWG drives consumer choice and civic action.

California Association of Code Enforcement Officers promotes and advances the profession of code enforcement while serving and supporting its members by offering comprehensive education and certification; providing legislative advocacy on issues of importance to the code enforcement profession; and facilitating a network for an exchange of information and technology.

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