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6,000 California workers contaminated with toxic heavy metal lead

Do you have too much lead in your blood? If you live and work in California, that may just be the case. Over 6,000 Californian workers from the manufacturing and construction industries have alarmingly high levels of lead in their blood. A new report from the state’s public health agency has even indicated that the amount of lead in their blood is enough to cause serious health issues.

Elevated blood lead content is defined as at or above 5 micrograms per deciliter, according to state and national public health officials. California public health authorities say that persistent exposure to lead at these levels increases the risk of “hypertension, kidney disease, cognitive dysfunction, and adverse reproductive outcomes,” in both adults and children.  And according to the CDC, even slight elevations of blood lead levels can stunt development and reduce IQ.

The report, which contains results from testing conducted between 2012 and 2014, found that of the 38,440 workers tested, 6,051 had blood lead levels at or above 5 micrograms per deciliter. Most of the workers were men between the ages of 20 and 59 and lived in Southern California.

Barbara Feder Ostrov of California Healthline reports that  a staggering sixty percent of the workers with higher exposure levels — at or above 10 micrograms per deciliter — worked in manufacturing, often for companies that make aircraft and aircraft parts, ships, plumbing and pipefitting fixtures, metal valves, and also companies that make or recycle batteries.

Those workers with the highest lead exposure — 40 micrograms per deciliter or more — often worked in some form of the munitions industry, but some also worked in paints, construction, or another aspect of the metals industry.

According to California Healthline, a spokesman for the California Manufacturers and Technology Association stated that the group “did not have a position on workplace lead exposure.” The state of California only requires employers to test employees for lead if their work uses or “disturbs” lead. However, state researchers have warned that many workers that are exposed to lead continue to go untested.

The report’s authors also noted that current standards for lead adopted by the  California’s Division of Occupational Safety and Health  (Cal/OSHA) are based on medical and scientific information that is now about 35 years old. “Out-dated” would be putting it mildly. The researchers recommend that Cal/OSHA make revisions and update its current standards to better protect the state’s workers.

Children are being affected by lead, too

California researchers have also collected data on children who have been exposed to lead as well. Children with a blood lead level of 4.5 micrograms or greater are considered to have an elevated blood lead level.

The Fruitvale district of Oakland was found to have the highest number of children under the age of six that were being overexposed to lead, according to testing data from 2012. Overexposure to lead was seen in 7.57 percent of kids under the age of six in that area, but other districts didn’t fare much better. Shockingly high percentages of children with elevated blood lead content were seen around Bay Area cities.

In Seaside in Monterey County, 7.44 percent of young children had elevated blood lead levels, and in San Francisco’s Mission District, 4.44 percent were also overexposed.

For perspective, only 5 percent of children tested in Flint, Michigan had elevated blood lead levels — and that was after they were exposed to lead in their drinking water, but before the water advisory was issued in 2015.

In other words, children in certain parts of California are being exposed to more lead than the children in Flint who were drinking contaminated water.

It is well known that lead is toxic in even very small amounts — California’s failure to better regulate the industry is disgraceful. The CDC itself has stated that children of lead-exposed workers, in particular, are often at a higher risk of having elevated blood lead levels.

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