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High Lead Levels In Baby Teeth Of Children Near Vernon Exide Plant, Study Finds

VERNON (CBSLA) – Children living near the shuttered Exide battery-recycling plant in Vernon have high levels of lead in their baby teeth, according to a new study.

The "Truth Fairy" study released by USC researchers this week found a correlation between the amount of lead in the soil of a property near the closed plant and the amount of lead in the baby teeth of a child who lives there.

Researchers looked at the lead levels in 50 baby teeth collected from 43 children in Boyle Heights, Maywood, East Los Angeles, Commerce and Huntington Park. They then matched the lead levels to soil contamination data for nearly 8,000 properties around the Exide plant collected by the California Department of Toxic Substances Control (DTSC).

"We found the higher the level of lead in the soil, the higher the amount of lead in baby teeth," study co-author Dr. Jill Johnston, an assistant professor of preventive medicine at the USC Keck School of Medicine, said in a statement. "There's no safe level of lead; it's a potent neurotoxin."

The 8,000 properties had a median lead soil concentration of 190 parts per million. The state threshold is 80 ppm.

The Exide plant opened in 1922 and then permanently closed in March 2015. According to USC researchers, by the time it closed, Exide was recycling 11 million auto batteries per year and had released 3,500 tons of lead into the surrounding area.

In 2016, Gov. Jerry Brown signed legislation providing $176.6 million in funding for environmental testing and cleanup work in neighborhoods surrounding the plant, with the testing expected to cover about 10,000 properties. It's the largest cleanup effort in California history.

However, since the bill was signed, the DTSC has faced repeated criticism for inadequate cleanup efforts. There are about 10,000 homes within a 1.5 mile radius of the plant.

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