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Wednesday, January 4, 2017

Off the Charts: The Thousands of U.S. Locales Where Lead Poisoning is Worse Than in Flint

From Reuters

By M.B. Pell and Joshua Schneyer
December 19, 2016

A Reuters examination of lead testing results across the country found almost 3,000 areas with poisoning rates far higher than in the tainted Michigan city. Yet many of these lead hotspots are receiving little attention or funding.


St. Joseph, Missouri – On a sunny November afternoon in this historic city, birthplace of the Pony Express and death spot of Jesse James, Lauranda Mignery watched her son Kadin, 2, dig in their front yard. As he played, she scolded him for putting his fingers in his mouth.
In explanation, she pointed to the peeling paint on her old house. Kadin, she said, has been diagnosed with lead poisoning.

He has lots of company: Within 15 blocks of his house, at least 120 small children have been poisoned since 2010, making the neighborhood among the most toxic in Missouri, Reuters found as part of an analysis of childhood lead testing results across the country. In St. Joseph, even a local pediatrician’s children were poisoned.

Last year, the city of Flint, Michigan, burst into the world spotlight after its children were exposed to lead in drinking water and some were poisoned. In the year after Flint switched to corrosive river water that leached lead from old pipes, 5 percent of the children screened there had high blood lead levels.

Flint is no aberration. In fact, it doesn’t even rank among the most dangerous lead hotspots in America.

In all, Reuters found nearly 3,000 areas with recently recorded lead poisoning rates at least double those in Flint during the peak of that city’s contamination crisis. And more than 1,100 of these communities had rates of elevated tests at least four times higher.


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The poisoned places on this map stretch from Warren, Pennsylvania, a town on the Allegheny River where 36 percent of children tested had high lead levels, to a zip code on Goat Island, Texas, where a quarter of tests showed poisoning.

In some pockets of Baltimore, Cleveland and Philadelphia, where lead poisoning has spanned generations, the rate of elevated tests over the last decade was 40 to 50 percent.

Like Flint, many of these localities are plagued by legacy lead: crumbling paint, plumbing, or industrial waste left behind. Unlike Flint, many have received little attention or funding to combat poisoning.

To identify these locations, Reuters examined neighborhood-level blood testing results, most of which have not been previously disclosed. The data, obtained from state health departments and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, tracks poisoning rates among children tested in each location.

The resulting portrait provides a granular look at places where decades-long U.S. efforts to stamp out lead poisoning have fallen short.

“The disparities you’ve found between different areas have stark implications,” said Dr. Helen Egger, chair of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry at NYU Langone Medical Center’s Child Study Center. “Where lead poisoning remains common, many children will have developmental delays and start out behind all the rest.”

In children up to age 6, the CDC threshold for an elevated blood lead level is 5 micrograms per deciliter. Any child who tests high warrants a public health response, the agency says; even a slight elevation can reduce IQ and stunt development.

Nationwide, the CDC estimates that 2.5 percent of small children have elevated levels. In the communities identified by this analysis, a far higher rate of children who got tested had lead poisoning. In most cases, the local data covers a 5- or 10-year period through 2015.

Reporters visited several of the trouble spots: a neighborhood with many rundown homes in South Bend, Indiana; a rural mining town in Missouri’s Lead Belt; the economically depressed North Side of Milwaukee. In each location, it was easy to find people whose lives have been impacted by lead exposure.

While poverty remains a potent predictor of lead poisoning, the victims span the American spectrum – poor and rich, rural and urban, black and white.

Read Reuters' Entire Investigate Report HERE.

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