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Dedicated Facilities Needed to Treat Lead Exposure

The latest development in the number of cases of lead contamination from Exide Technologies comes from a Los Angeles County public health official’s report to the Board of Supervisors.

County health officials tested the soil outside 500 homes close to the Exide plant and found all but eight of the homes had levels of lead so high that they pose a health risk to residents and require soil removal and decontamination.

Using special equipment that allowed for testing to be done in the field, County Health Director Cynthia Harding said 12 county teams tested about 50 homes a day, 500 homes in less than three-weeks, far out-pacing the number of tests completed by a contractor for Exide, which took two and half months to test 50 homes, and the Department of Toxic Substances Control, which took about two weeks to assess the same number of sites.

According to health officials, 45 homes had levels that qualified them as hazardous waste. One hundred seventy nine had lead levels that exceeded the federal residential action level and 268 had lead levels that the state has identified as requiring cleanup.

County nurses have been visiting the homes identified with elevated levels of lead informing residents about blood testing and how to minimize the potential health effects.

The county’s numbers, while disturbing, were not unexpected. EGP has on more than one occasion criticized state regulators and officials for not acting aggressively enough and the county’s numbers give added weight to those criticisms.

While we agree that it is important for county health personnel to visit the homes of impacted residents, it’s not enough.

The state and county need to set up designated locations where residents, especially children, with elevated levels of lead in their blood can immediately begin treatment and receive wrap-around services for consequences such as learning disabilities.

Treatment and services should begin quickly and not be caught up in the usual red tape of referrals that often keeps people from getting care. Services must also be made available regardless of a person’s immigration status.

There is no more time to delay. Much damage has probably already been done to residents’ health. EGP worries that in many cases the damage cannot be reversed.