Children residing near a closed battery recycling plant in Vernon, California, exhibited higher levels of lead in the blood than others living farther away, according to a report that state health authorities released on April 8.

According to the report from the California Department of Public Health, 3.58 percent of young kids living within one mile of the shuttered Exide Technologies plant had elevated blood levels of the toxic poison in 2012 versus the 2.41 percent of their counterparts from much distant places. Both figures are higher than the 2012 number of about 2 percent for children in the whole county.

Higher levels of lead were found in 285 children from southeast Los Angeles County homes close to Exide. The authors noted a moderate rise in associated risk when one lives less than a mile from the facility, which is situated around 5 miles coming from downtown Los Angeles.

“While there are multiple sources of contamination harming southeast Los Angeles children, this report indicates that those living near Exide face an increased burden of lead, likely associated with the facility,” notes University of Southern California professor Jill Johnston, emphasizing irreversible damage from lead exposure.

A potent neurotoxin, lead is considered to have no safe level of exposure. Most at risk are young children getting exposed to the poisonous metal through dust, soil, paint and water.

Health officials explain that it’s not just emissions from lead-acid battery smelter that are increasing lead levels in the area, but also lead-based paint in older residences near the Exide facility that last operated in 2012.

The analysis covered 12,000 children who are under age 6, a time when one has the most pronounced risk for learning and developmental problems from lead exposure.

In its statement, Exide says it is currently studying the report and that it is no longer surprised that the housing stock’s age, which is indicative of leaded paint’s presence, is “an important predictor” of lead levels found in the blood.

Exide, which went bankrupt in 2013, is being linked by state and federal officials for decades to excessive emissions of lead and arsenic, along with violating laws on hazardous waste in and around its 15-acre plant and on highways reached by its trucks.

The Department of Toxic Substances Control has already spent around $7 billion to dispose of some 10,000 tons of lead-containing soil from areas a couple of miles southeast of downtown Los Angeles in a massively industrial location.

Back in February, Gov. Jerry Brown planned on allotting $176.6 million to further test and clean up thousands of residences that may be laced with lead, with the California Senate approving the budget last April 7.

Photo: Tony Fischer | Flickr

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