Lead Astray

California’s Broken Promise To Protect Children From Lead Poisoning

View and Download the report here: Lead Astray

Despite a 1991 lawsuit settlement in which the State of California promised to ensure blood testing and treatment for lower-income children threatened by lead poisoning, since 1992 the state has failed to identify or provide care for an estimated 200,000 lead-poisoned children ages 1 to 5. About 212,000 one-to-five-year-olds in California had harmful blood lead levels between 1992 and 1998, but the state identified only 14,900.

More than 43,700 California children ages 1 to 5 live in critical lead risk “hot spots” with the highest percentage of older housing, poverty and people of color. These hot spots are found in San Francisco, Alameda County, Los Angeles, Long Beach, San Diego, Sacramento and Fresno. An additional 239,000 children live in very high risk areas. Our analysis has produced a searchable database of lead poisoning risk in all California neighborhoods, available online at www.ewg.org/california.

Statewide, no more than 1 in 5 children is tested for lead poisoning. This abysmal performance in dealing with a serious, yet entirely preventable, public health problem is primarily the result of the Department of Health Services’ failure to enforce state and federal law requiring blood tests for all young children receiving public assistance and to require reporting of all blood test results to the state. Doctors and health maintenance organizations (HMOs) are also failing in their legal responsibility to provide testing for all lower-income children; the state is complicit in this neglect because it has yet to adopt standards to hold health care providers accountable.

This tragedy costs the state vast sums for special education, medical care and lost earnings for lead-poisoned children. Reducing the average level of lead in California children’s blood by just 10 percent would save more than $800 million a year.

EWG urges the state to adopt regulations requiring blood tests for all children and reporting of all blood lead levels. All health care providers must comply with state laws on testing and reporting, and the state must adopt standards that will allow health officials to enforce compliance. The state should increase its funding of lead poisoning prevention programs, should take legal action against health care providers who do not obey the law, and should consider joining lawsuits by Santa Clara County and the State of Rhode Island against lead polluters to recover damages to fund lead programs.

View and Download the report here: Lead Astray

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