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Lead Tests On 500 Oakland Children Show Higher Contamination Rate Than Kids In Flint, MI

OAKLAND (KCBS) -- A study of blood-test results around the country shows that kids in certain Bay Area neighborhoods are exposed to lead as much as -- or more than -- kids who've been living through the lead contamination crisis in Flint, Michigan.

Reuters compiled the data and published the results in a special report titled 'Off the Charts - The thousands of U.S. Locales Where Lead poisoning is Worse than in Flint.'

The CDC estimates that nationwide, 2.5 percent of young children have elevated levels of lead in their blood.

When 500 children were tested in the 94601 area code, Oakland's Fruitvale District, 7.57 percent of them tested with higher blood lead levels than prescribed by the CDC.

When Flint, Michigan, was making national headlines with lead in its water, 5 percent of kids had those elevated levels.

In San Francisco's Mission District, it's above 4, and above 3 percent in Bayview-Hunters Point. That's according to data from state and federal agencies assembled in a Reuters analysis.

"This is where I grew up and raised my four children "

One of Oakland City Councilmember Noel Gallo's children alerted him about this latest Reuters news agency study showing alarming levels of lead in the Fruitvale area and surrounding neighborhoods.

"This is where I grew up and raised my four children," he said. "You've had warehouses for ever here and some properties you can't build on since the soil contamination is so deep."

That lead comes from years of industrial pollutants, freeways that spewed leaded gasoline fumes will into the 80s, and an even more potent source, aging pipes and paint.

Dr. Alison Matsunaga at UCSF Benioff Children's Hospital in Oakland treats kids with lead poisoning and recommends screening for those who live in older homes where lead paint is common.

"Lead can be also found, for instance in toys that may be painted or made outside of this country, candy as well, and also in various ceremonial makeup used in some cultures," said Matsunaga.

She says even trace amounts of lead in children's blood can affect IQ in the long term.

Fruitvale resident Asyia Jabaar is expecting her first child and already has health concerns. She is diabetic and all she need to drink a lot water and is concerned about what she eats and drinks

"What do people need to do right here - right now? Well it's a question I ask myself -- do I drink the water?"

"I am checking with the county and Feds to see what we do next," said Jabaar.

Larry Brooks, who runs Alameda County's lead prevention efforts in what's called the Healthy Homes Department, has a theory as to why Fruitvale families would see such high rates of lead exposure and poisoning.

"We do have a affordable housing crisis here in the Bay Area," says Brooks. "We have a lot of aging homes and the primary focus is just being able to pay the rent so they're not going to complain about housing conditions such as deteriorated paint."

According to Reuters, California only provided results for 200 zip codes with the highest number of children under age 6 years who had lead levels at or above 4.5 micrograms per deciliter and where at least 500 children were tested.

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 a rate of elevated blood tests at least four times higher.

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