Notre-Dame toxic fallout lawsuit turns heat on Paris authorities

FILE PHOTO: A view shows the damaged roof of Notre-Dame de Paris during restoration work, three months after a fire that devastated the cathedral in Paris, France, July 14, 2019. REUTERS/Philippe Wojazer/File Photo

PARIS (Reuters) – An environmental protection group has filed a suit alleging lives were deliberately endangered after the fire that ravaged Notre-Dame cathedral in Paris, saying authorities failed to protect people from lead that spewed into the area.

The April 15 inferno melted hundreds of tonnes of lead in the cathedral’s spire and roof. Unusually high levels of lead were later detected in the air and nearby buildings, including primary schools.

Campaign group Robin des Bois filed a lawsuit dated July 26 against unknown persons, alleging that authorities in Paris were aware the fire had dispersed large quantities of lead into the air and that lead is toxic.

Authorities failed to provide adequate warnings of potential lead poisoning to local residents, tourists and workers on the site before and after the blaze, the suit says.

The authorities’ actions meant there was exposure to toxic fallout and that “lives were deliberately endangered”, Robin des Bois said in its complaint, filed with the Paris prosecutor.

Paris City Hall declined to comment.

The prosecutor will next determine whether the complaint merits deeper investigation.

Health officials have said people living and working in the vicinity of the cathedral were kept informed of risks and safety measures. Nearby residents were advised to wipe down surfaces with a damp cloth.

In June, after unusually high lead levels were detected in a child, pregnant women and young children were invited to get tested for lead levels in their blood.

More than three months after the fire, the Paris prefect suspended restoration work on the cathedral on July 25 until more robust decontamination measures have been put in place. The same day, the mayor’s office temporarily closed a nursery and primary school that were hosting a holiday club for a “deep clean” after high lead levels were detected.

The cathedral’s spire and roof, which collapsed in the fire, contained more than 450 tonnes of lead.

(Reporting by Emilie Delwarde; Writing by Richard Lough; Editing by Frances Kerry)

California settles decades-long lawsuit over lead paint, but outcome is bittersweet

Ashley Avila, 11, plays with her nephew Alexander Avila, 3, outside of their home where Alexander was lead poisoned by lead-based paint in Oakland, California, U.S. June 18, 2019. REUTERS/Kate Munsch

By Joshua Schneyer

OAKLAND, Calif. (Reuters) – When Californian counties and cities first sued paint makers in 2000, they wanted the companies to pay billions to remove dangerous old lead paint from hundreds of thousands of homes.

After a 19-year legal struggle, they have finally succeeded in getting the companies to fund a remediation program, albeit on a much smaller scale. Sherwin-Williams, Conagra Brands Inc and NL Industries have agreed to a $305 million settlement, according to a filing in Santa Clara County Superior Court in California on Wednesday.

The resolution marks a rare success for a public nuisance claim, under which counties and municipalities can sue corporations for past activities – including those conducted decades ago – they say have harmed communities.

High-profile public nuisance claims have proliferated in recent years in the United States as local governments try to use the courts to make corporations pay for societal ills like lead poisoning, the opioid addiction crisis and climate change.

Yet the glacial pace and complex twists in California’s lead paint case highlight just how difficult it can be to use the public nuisance strategy against corporations, even in a state whose courts are particularly consumer-friendly.

A trial judgment in 2014 ordered the paint companies to pay $1.15 billion, but an appeals court decision led to the amount being slashed by more than half in 2017. Once the companies had exhausted the appeals process, they threatened to sue individual property owners who received help cleaning up their properties, by claiming they had failed to properly maintain their housing.

“This landmark settlement will allow thousands of homes to be remediated, and as a result, current and future generations of California children will no longer face the threat of lead poisoning,” said James Williams, County Counsel for Santa Clara County, where the lawsuit was first filed.

“We’re pleased that we’ve been able to hold lead paint manufacturers accountable and responsible,” he said.

The defendant paint companies did not admit any wrongdoing under the settlement.

One of the companies said the agreement would limit its liability.

“Sherwin-Williams is pleased to have reached an agreement to resolve this litigation, and it will continue to vigorously and aggressively defend against any similar current or future litigation,” the company said in a written statement.

BITTERSWEET VICTORY

The number of U.S. children poisoned by lead has fallen sharply since the United States banned the toxic metal from residential paint and gasoline, during the 1970s and 80s.

But for California districts like Oakland and Los Angeles, where childhood lead poisoning still exacts a heavy toll, the outcome of the legal struggle is bittersweet.

In the decades it took the local governments to prevail, tens of thousands of more children in California have been exposed to dangerous levels of lead, state public health data shows.

In Alameda County, for example, some zip codes have lead poisoning rates higher than those found in Flint, Michigan, at the peak of that city’s water contamination crisis.

County inspectors found dangerous paint dust in the East Oakland home of 3-year-old Alexander Avila, who tested with lead levels more than five times the elevated standard of five micrograms per deciliter set by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

When a reporter visited the nearly century-old home last month, Alexander was a ball of hyperactive energy. His mother Stephanie, 26, said he is able to speak few words and has trouble engaging with other kids at preschool. She fears his past lead exposure will affect him for life.

“People just don’t know what’s in their own houses, or the dangers their kids can face,” she said.

A county program helped fix lead paint hazards at the home, but public funds are scarce to repair housing before it can harm children.

In nearby Hayward, California, another predominantly working-class city in the San Francisco Bay Area, five members of the Mariscal family, including two children, were poisoned by lead paint at their old home during 2017 and 2018, county health data and inspection reports show.

Three-year-old Isaac, who tested at levels more than twice the CDC’s elevated threshold, suffered anemia – a common symptom of lead exposure – and, like Alexander, has also had speech problems.

The CDC says there is no safe level of lead in children’s blood. At least 4 million U.S. children remain at risk of exposure from chipping paint or lead dust in their housing, the agency says. Lead paint doesn’t pose an immediate danger unless it is deteriorating.

Many of the 10 counties and cities that brought the lawsuit have tens of thousands, or hundreds of thousands, of older housing units. Neutralizing lead paint hazards in a single home can cost thousands of dollars, so the settlement money may only cover the clean-up of a fraction of homes that need work.

“The litigation money can only go so far, but it’s a start,” Larry Brooks, director of Alameda County’s lead poisoning prevention program, said in an interview last month.

More than 6,300 children have been exposed to elevated lead levels in his county since 2000, when the litigation began, according to county health data.

Although the United States banned lead paint sales in 1978, most old housing still contains it, and thousands of U.S. neighborhoods still have alarming poisoning rates, Reuters found in a series of articles in 2017.

NEW LEGAL PRECEDENT?

California jurisdictions are the first to have a public nuisance verdict upheld against former lead paint manufacturers. Several lawsuits in other states have failed since 2000, from Illinois to Missouri and Rhode Island.

The California case may set a new legal precedent for seeking remediation. Legal scholars say it could encourage new lawsuits against paint companies, and Californian local governments report receiving inquiries from counterparts in other areas of the country interested in bringing their own nuisance claims.

In product liability lawsuits, attorneys must prove harm to individual plaintiffs. In public nuisance cases, the plaintiffs don’t have to prove harm to specific people. Instead, they can claim that the defendants’ activities impeded broad community rights, such as the public right to enjoy property.

In California, the plaintiffs argued the companies were responsible for creating a public health threat and knew of the toxic dangers of lead paint when they marketed it, without properly warning consumers, for decades before the U.S. government banned its use in homes.

The paint companies argued that they stopped marketing lead paint products once risks became known. They contended that homeowners were responsible for preventing any poisoning hazards in their living spaces.

Santa Clara County recently filed another public nuisance case against opioid pill manufacturers, and similar cases are popping up with increasing frequency nationwide.

Many of these suits share a common goal: making big business pay to fix high-cost societal burdens that their profit-making activities may have left behind.

Corporate defense attorneys worry that more wins for local governments under the public nuisance doctrine could saddle businesses with huge and unpredictable liabilities, in some cases for decades-old actions they thought were safe at the time.

WHY SETTLE NOW?

The California local governments and the companies settled after a marathon legal battle that saw both sides suffer setbacks.

Beyond seeing the earlier $1.15 billion judgment sharply cut back by an appeals decision, the plaintiffs were concerned with court-imposed restrictions on how the money could be used.

For instance, the terms had limited the remediation program to housing built before 1951, and only indoor paint hazards could be fixed. The local governments also faced a tight, four-year window to complete the program, after which any unspent funds would be returned to the paint companies.

As recently as January, court filings from the case show, lawyers for the paint companies vowed to sue California property owners who sought to use the remediation funds. Counties were concerned the mere specter of these suits would have a chilling effect on the remediation program, which will rely on housing owners’ voluntary participation.

It was an unusually bold move, legal scholars say.

“Talking about suing property owners is an aggressive tactic,” said Bob Rabin, a tort law specialist at Stanford University.

“I can’t think of another public nuisance judgment where defendants turned around and said recipients of the damages should be disqualified because they are to blame,” he said.

With the settlement in place, these threats and court-imposed limitations on how the money can be spent will now be lifted.

Paint companies have agreed not to target property owners with lawsuits, cities and counties can take as much time as they need fixing homes, and housing built through the 1970s when lead paint was still being sold are also eligible for help, including on exterior walls.

(Reporting By Joshua Schneyer; Editing by Michael Williams and Ross Colvin)

Special Report: Reuters’ testing triggers lead cleanup at Fort Knox base

FILE PHOTO: Col. John Cale Brown and Darlena Brown pose for a portrait with their sons J.C. and Rider at their home in 2017. Picture taken 2017. REUTERS/Aaron P. Bernstein

By Joshua Schneyer

FORT KNOX, Kentucky (Reuters) – Fort Knox is famed for its ultra-secure bullion depository that holds $100 billion in U.S. gold reserves. But some families at the Kentucky Army base have concerns about another heavy metal: lead.

When Reuters offered lead testing to military families at several bases, the highest result came from a peeling paint sample one Knox family collected from their covered back porch. It contained 50 percent lead, or 100 times the federal hazard level.

In April, a reporter visited the home, where Karla Hughes lives with her husband, an Army captain, and 4-year-old daughter, who doesn’t have elevated lead levels. In a grassy area where children play nearby, paint chipping from an abandoned electric switch house contained 16 percent lead.

Lead samples line up ready for testing at the Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory in Palisades, New York, U.S. March 29, 2018. Picture taken March 29, 2018. To match Special Report USA-MILITARY/HOUSING. REUTERS/Mike Wood

Lead samples line up ready for testing at the Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory in Palisades, New York, U.S. March 29, 2018. Picture taken March 29, 2018. To match Special Report USA-MILITARY/HOUSING. REUTERS/Mike Wood

Several historic homes on the Hughes’ street had old paint peeling from exterior trim, porch or window areas.

Knox Hills, the landlord for more than 2,300 homes on base, removed exterior lead paint from many older homes in recent years but left others untouched.

When Hughes complained about paint conditions in April, the company sent a maintenance worker, who repainted a porch beam but conducted no testing.

Later, Hughes pointed out the copious black paint peeling from a porch handrail to a housing supervisor from Knox Hills. “That’s not lead paint,” she said he assured her. Knox Hills declined to comment on the episode.

A reporter was a block away and later watched as Hughes collected paint falling from the handrail. Lab testing showed its lead content was 28 times a federal threshold that would require abatement.

In response, Knox Hills announced a neighborhood-wide lead paint abatement project focused on porch banisters, several home exteriors and the old switch-house. Residents said the project involves around 40 homes; it included “complete removal of paint and repainting” of the porch handrails.

Without Reuters’ testing data, Hughes said, “this danger may have been left undiscovered and ignored.”

“Knox Hills is taking the proper steps,” said Army spokeswoman Colonel Kathleen Turner. No child living on base has tested high for lead in years, she said.

Knox Hills is a partnership between the Army and private contractors including Lendlease, a property developer headquartered in Sydney, Australia, that operates military housing at several U.S. bases.

“Our response to these concerns, as in all resident issues, are our highest priority,” said Lendlease spokeswoman Meryl Exley.

(Editing by Ronnie Greene)

NYC mother seeks millions from city after child’s lead poisoning

NYC mother seeks millions from city after child's lead poisoning

By Joshua Schneyer and M.B. Pell

(Reuters) – A Brooklyn mother is seeking millions from the city after her toddler was poisoned while living in a lead-infested apartment, the latest charge that New York has failed to protect children from the toxin.

Natalia Rollins, a 25-year-old mother of two, informed the city this week of her intent to sue and filed a separate lawsuit in Brooklyn’s Kings County Supreme Court against her landlord and property managers, filings show. The claims say her son Noah, 2, was exposed to lead paint in a hazardous Coney Island apartment.

In 2015, city agencies helped place the formerly homeless family into the privately owned apartment, telling her the dwelling was safe for her two infant sons, Rollins contends. A city program covered much of the $1,515 monthly rent.

Rollins complained about the apartment’s conditions, she said – but the full scope of lead hazards, including toxic peeling paint around Noah’s crib, wasn’t detected until after his September lead poisoning diagnosis, when city health officials swooped in to document the unsafe conditions.

Rollins’ claims, filed by her attorney, Reuven Frankel, come as the New York City Housing Authority, NYCHA, is under fire for failing to conduct required annual lead paint inspections in public housing complexes. The New York Post reported last month that lawsuits stemming from NYCHA’s inspection failures could cost the city up to $100 million.

Though Rollins doesn’t live in NYCHA housing, her suit alleges official neglect and improper enforcement of city lead inspection standards in a private apartment.

City hall spokeswoman Olivia Lapeyrolerie said that although city workers assist some homeless families in finding and paying for rental units, the choice of where to live remains up to the tenant.

Last month, a Reuters investigation featured the Rollins family and charted lingering risk areas around a city long known for its fight against lead poisoning.

The report showed that New York hasn’t been policing provisions from a 2004 city code that requires landlords to annually inspect for and abate lead paint hazards in housing built before 1960.

When Reuters visited Rollins’ rental unit last month, the place had peeling paint, cockroaches, buckling floors, a broken window and no heat. City records showed 163 open housing code violations.

City officials told Reuters they are trying to contact Rollins to help her find a new apartment. Meanwhile, the city’s housing department, HPD, has fined the Brooklyn landlord nearly $15,000 and has stepped in to perform repairs and bill the landlord.

The 116-year-old building has been on the citywide list of the 200 “most distressed” multi-unit dwellings for years. Its landlord, Ervin Johnson, is currently ranked number 14 on a city list of the “100 Worst Landlords.”

Johnson didn’t respond to a request for comment, but the building’s property manager said he recently offered to move Rollins’ family to another apartment and they declined.

(Reporting by Joshuan Schneyer and M.B. Pell)

Reuters finds 3,810 U.S. areas with lead poisoning double Flint’s

Reuters finds 3,810 U.S. areas with lead poisoning double Flint’s

By M.B. Pell and Joshua Schneyer

(Reuters) – Since last year, Reuters has obtained neighborhood-level blood lead testing results for 34 states and the District of Columbia. This data allows the public its first hyper-local look at communities where children tested positive for lead exposure in recent years.

While the number of children with high lead levels has plummeted across the U.S. since lead paint and gasoline were phased out in the 1970s and 1980s, many communities remain exposed to the toxic heavy metal, the data show.

In all, Reuters has identified 3,810 neighborhood areas with recently recorded childhood lead poisoning rates at least double those found across Flint, Michigan, during the peak of that city’s water contamination crisis in 2014 and 2015. Some 1,300 of these hotspots had a rate of elevated blood tests at least four times higher than Flint’s.

Reuters defined an elevated result as any test higher than the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s current reference number of 5 micrograms per deciliter, the level at which the agency recommends a public health intervention.

The news agency obtained the data, broken down by census tract or zip code, from state health departments or the CDC through records requests. U.S. census tracts are small county subdivisions averaging 4,000 residents. Zip codes have average populations of 7,500.

This newest map reflects additional data obtained this year, and includes some changes to data initially published by Reuters in a map last December.

The map now includes testing data for additional states and cities: Kansas, Georgia, Tennessee, Vermont, North Carolina, New York City and Washington, DC.

The newly identified communities with high rates of elevated childhood lead levels include a historic district in Savannah, Georgia, areas in Rutland, Vermont, near the popular skiing mountain Killington, and a largely Hasidic Jewish area in Brooklyn.

The updated map includes other minor changes. Recently, the CDC provided testing results to correct data it previously released to Reuters for Pennsylvania, Ohio, New Jersey, Virginia and Louisiana. Responding to earlier records requests, the CDC mistakenly released test results for all children under 16, though the news agency requested testing results for children under six – the age group most likely to be affected by lead exposure.

Still, even with the updated CDC data, the number of areas with high rates of elevated lead tests increased or remained about the same in each state.

The map now features zip code level data for Los Angeles County, California, provided by the state’s Department of Public Health. An earlier version featured census tract level results, but reporters discovered the county’s epidemiologist had misclassified some of them. The county has declined to provide corrected data.

(Editing by Ronnie Greene)

Special Report: Lead poisoning lurks in scores of New York areas

Special Report: Lead poisoning lurks in scores of New York areas

By Joshua Schneyer and M.B. Pell

NEW YORK (Reuters) – In public health circles, New York City is known for its long war on lead poisoning.

The city outlawed residential lead paint in 1960, 18 years before a national ban. A 2004 housing law targeted “elimination” of childhood lead poisoning within six years. The city offers free lead testing in housing, vows to fix hazards and bill landlords when necessary, and has seen childhood exposure rates decline year after year.

Yet inspectors didn’t visit the Brooklyn apartment where Barbara Ellis lived until after her twin daughters tested high for lead three years in a row, she said. They found peeling lead paint on doors and windows. The girls required speech and occupational therapy for their developmental delays, common among lead-exposed children.

“Their words and speech are still a little slurred,” Ellis, a subway conductor, said of daughters Kaitlyn and Chasity, now 6. Tired of feuding with their landlord, they found new lodging in Harlem.

The family’s plight is not uncommon.

Areas of high lead exposure risk remain throughout America’s largest and richest city, a Reuters exploration of blood testing data found. In the first examination of its kind, reporters obtained New York childhood blood testing data down to the census tract level – neighborhood areas with some 4,000 residents apiece. In densely populated New York, a tract often covers several square blocks.

While poisoning has nearly been eliminated in many neighborhoods, Reuters identified 69 New York City census tracts where at least 10 percent of small children screened over an 11-year period, from 2005 to 2015, had elevated lead levels.

That is twice the rate found across Flint, Michigan, during the peak of its notorious water contamination crisis in 2014 and 2015, where the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found 5 percent of children’s tests were high.

The risk areas spanned New York neighborhoods and demographic groups. Peeling old paint is a conspicuous hazard, but reporters tracked other perils hiding in plain sight, from leaded soil and water, to dangerous toys, cosmetics and health supplements.

In 2015, 5,400 city children tested with an elevated blood lead level, 5 micrograms per deciliter or higher, New York’s most recent annual report on lead poisoning showed. More than 800 had levels at least twice that high.

Previously undisclosed data explored by Reuters offers a hyper-local look at neighborhood areas where the city has fallen short of its eradication goal.

“New York’s prevention program is renowned, so the fact it still has pockets like these shows how challenging this issue is on a national scale,” said Patrick MacRoy, a former director of Chicago’s lead poisoning prevention program.

Reuters found:

• A 2004 housing law co-sponsored by Bill de Blasio, now the mayor, targeted scofflaw landlords. But the city isn’t policing two key provisions that require landlords to find and fix hazards, sometimes waiting until children get poisoned before taking action.

• The areas where the most children tested high are in Brooklyn, including neighborhoods with historic brownstones and surging real estate values, where construction and renovation can unleash the toxin. The worst spot – with recent rates nearly triple Flint’s – was in a Hasidic Jewish area with the city’s highest concentration of small children.

• An affluent area near Riverside Park in Manhattan’s Upper West Side has had rates comparable to Flint’s.

• Reporters were able to buy dangerous leaded products in city shops, including children’s jewelry. One item, a cosmetic marketed for use around children’s eyes, tested with levels 4,700 times the U.S. safety standard. It was labeled lead-free.

• Reuters purchased other items subject to New York lead warnings through online giants Amazon and EBay, which later pulled the items from their websites.

• Soil testing in Brooklyn backyards and a park detected lead levels comparable to some sites designated under the federal Superfund toxic-cleanup program.

While exposure rates have dropped citywide – by up to 86 percent since 2005 – the number of children meeting New York’s criteria for lead poisoning, twice the CDC’s elevated threshold, barely budged between 2012 and 2015.

“Unfortunately, nationally and locally, we are beginning to see signs there is a leveling off in what was once a steep downward trend,” said Rebecca Morley, a housing expert who co-authored a recent report calling for more aggressive national lead abatement policies.

In a statement, City Hall spokeswoman Olivia Lapeyrolerie said comparisons between New York and Flint are “alarmist and inaccurate,” given the city’s sharp declines in lead poisoning and aggressive prevention efforts.

But Morley, while crediting the city’s progress, said the data show “extreme pockets of poisoning remain.”

New York is just one of hundreds of American communities struggling with poisoning. In a two-year investigation, Reuters has now documented 3,810 census tracts or zip code areas across 34 U.S. states where recent high childhood lead test rates have been double those found in Flint.

There’s no safe level of lead in a child’s blood. Exposure is linked to brain damage, lower IQ, behavioral disorders, and lifelong health impacts.

Six-year-old twins Kaitlyn and Chasity Ellis, who were exposed to lead in a Brooklyn apartment, pose with their mother Barbara Ellis (R) and grandfather Ruden Ellis in a park in Harlem - where the family now lives - in New York City, U.S. September 20, 2017. REUTERS/Joshua Schneyer

Six-year-old twins Kaitlyn and Chasity Ellis, who were exposed to lead in a Brooklyn apartment, pose with their mother Barbara Ellis (R) and grandfather Ruden Ellis in a park in Harlem – where the family now lives – in New York City, U.S. September 20, 2017. REUTERS/Joshua Schneyer

A QUESTION OF ENFORCEMENT

Seventy percent of New York’s housing stock was built in the 1950s or earlier, when lead was still common in paint. A toddler can be poisoned by swallowing a dime-sized flake of lead paint, or by ingesting paint dust.

“Housing is a main way that young kids get poisoned,” said Deborah Nagin, director of the city’s lead poisoning prevention program. “It’s very important that lead paint hazards, when we identify them, don’t sit around.”

Nagin’s health department division works closely with New York’s Housing and Preservation Department, HPD, whose 400 inspectors are trained to detect lead perils.

A 2004 housing code, Local Law 1, championed by then City Council member de Blasio, gave HPD broad authority to cite landlords for paint hazards and get them fixed quickly. Since then HPD has issued more than 230,000 lead paint violations to landlords.

But its inspectors aren’t able to visit all older housing in a city with more than 2 million tenant-occupied units. And the law’s explicit goal – elimination of poisoning – remains elusive seven years past its 2010 target date.

Among the reasons: There is little or no city enforcement of two provisions of the law, designed to make private landlords responsible for preventing poisoning.

One requires landlords to conduct annual lead paint inspections in pre-1960 housing units where small children live, fix hazards and keep records. The other requires them to “permanently seal or remove” lead paint from spots like windows and door-frames – so-called friction surfaces, where paint often breaks down – before new tenants move in.

Reporters reviewed the past 12 years of HPD violation records and found the agency hasn’t cited a single landlord for failure to conduct the annual inspections. Only one was cited for failure to remediate friction surfaces between tenants, in 2010.

“If the city’s not going to nail a few people for failing to do this, then no one is going to pay attention to these requirements,” said Matthew Chachere, a lawyer with anti-poverty group Northern Manhattan Improvement Corporation, who helped draft the 2004 law.

Mayor de Blasio declined comment.

Rafael Cestero, a former HPD commissioner under Mayor Michael Bloomberg, said the measures would be hard to enforce. “There has to be some realism in what we expect a government agency to actually do,” Cestero said. The department focuses on paint violations its own inspectors find, he said, often in response to tenant complaints.

CONEY ISLAND KIDS

In a statement, City Hall called its complaint-based enforcement system “highly effective” at reducing poisoning.

Yet it doesn’t always work, leaving some families to fend for themselves until a child gets poisoned, Reuters found.

In a 116-year-old building in Coney Island, Brooklyn, unit 2R’s grimy walls are marked with “LEAD PAINT” stamps next to two children’s beds, where inspectors recently found the toxin.

HPD records show the cramped apartment has 163 outstanding housing code violations.

During a reporter’s recent visit, the power was out and the building’s common areas were scattered with rodent droppings. In an apartment, a gas kitchen oven was jerry-rigged to provide heat.

Back in 2015, when Natalia Rollins moved here from a homeless shelter, the mother of two felt lucky. A city-sponsored voucher program, CITYFEPS, helped place her in a $1,515-a-month apartment and covered much of the rent.

Rollins, 25, soon grew scared for her baby boys. There was peeling old paint, a ceiling cave-in, roach, rodent and bee infestations, buckling floorboards, a broken window.

“I hated living in shelters, but nobody should have to live like this either,” said Rollins, a daycare worker. “The landlord would just ignore my calls. When you’re on a voucher you’re treated differently.”

Rollins says she reported housing concerns through the city’s 311 hotline dozens of times. Inspectors visited, but didn’t initially test for lead.

Two months ago her son Noah, 2, was diagnosed with lead poisoning. After receiving his test result, the city Health Department quickly swooped in and found the apartment rife with paint hazards.

Noah’s language is developing, but Natalia worries about his acute sensitivity to noises and his pica behavior, a tendency to eat non-food items. Natalia, Noah and older brother Randy, who is autistic, are now staying in a Bronx safe house for lead poisoning victims operated by Montefiore Hospital.

Ervin Johnson, Rollins’ Coney Island landlord, said the apartment was in “excellent condition” when she moved in. “If her kid got exposed to lead, it probably came from somewhere else,” he said.

But the city says most poisoned children are exposed at home, and records show Johnson’s building has been on the citywide list of the 200 “most distressed” multi-unit dwellings since 2007. “This landlord has repeatedly failed their duty to safeguard our youngest New Yorkers,” the city said.

Lapeyrolerie said the city is now pressing Johnson to “immediately” address the building’s violations and working to find Rollins another apartment.

Lapses in public housing have also come to light. For years, the city’s public housing authority, NYCHA, failed to conduct required annual lead inspections in older public housing, an ongoing federal investigation found.

“We can and must do better,” NYCHA spokeswoman Ilana Maier said.

Citywide, the rate of screened children showing a high blood test in 2015 was 1.7 percent, below the CDC’s estimated national average of 2.5 percent.

Yet rates can vary wildly. A tract on the well-to-do Upper West Side of Manhattan – adjacent to Riverside Park between 105th and 109th Streets – had rates similar to Flint’s even in recent years. The area features grand old buildings and multi-million dollar apartments, where renovations could put children at risk if lead safety practices aren’t followed.

WILLIAMSBURG WOES

Decades ago, Williamsburg, Brooklyn, was a low-rent and largely industrial area. Today, its spacious lofts and privileged perch across from downtown Manhattan attract the well-heeled.

Working-class residents remain, too, including thousands of Hasidic Jews from the Satmar sect, who have settled in the neighborhood’s southern zone since World War II. With their distinctive dress and traditions, the Hasidim’s orthodox lifestyle strikes a contrast to the hipster glitz encroaching nearby.

Hasidic Williamsburg suffers alarming rates of childhood lead poisoning, ranking as the riskiest spot Reuters found citywide.

Across three southern Williamsburg census tracts, as many as 2,400 children tested at or above the CDC’s current elevated lead threshold between 2005 and 2015. In one, 21 percent of children tested during this period had high lead levels. Rates in the most recent years were lower, but still above Flint’s.

On Lee Avenue, boys wearing black hats and coats stream out of yeshivas, while women shop in kosher markets and kibitz in Yiddish in front of old brownstones, many built around 1900.

“When I saw the numbers I freaked out,” said Rabbi David Niederman, head of the United Jewish Organizations of Williamsburg. “The concentration of old housing and the number of children in them are big factors.”

In Hasidic Williamsburg, around 25 percent of the population is age five or younger, compared to about 6 percent citywide.

In recent years, city health workers homed in on the poisoning cluster. UJO and other groups helped health officials conduct outreach, distributing lead awareness pamphlets in Yiddish, urging clinics to boost screening, and holding meetings for residents and landlords.

As recently as 2015, one area tract had a rate of 13 percent, the highest in the city. It’s too early to tell whether rates have since dropped.

DANGERS ON STORE SHELVES

Newly mobile toddlers are the most common lead victims, but school-aged kids and adults are also vulnerable.

Recent testing at the city’s public schools showed more than 80 percent had at least one water outlet with lead levels above the Environmental Protection Agency’s standard of 15 parts per billion. New York public radio station WNYC mapped those results. Faucets that test high are shut off pending repairs, but leaded water lines remain common in New York buildings.

Consumer products are another concern. This year, lead safety advocate Tamara Rubin documented several varieties of the wildly popular fidget spinner toy that contained lead.

And in New York’s popular bodegas, other dangerously leaded products can be found on shelves.

Reporters bought several products that can be used by children or pregnant women from area shops, ordered others from online vendors, and sent 13 items for testing at an accredited laboratory. Six had lead levels exceeding consumer product safety standards.

In Jackson Heights, Queens, a vibrant cauldron of the city’s diverse immigrant populations, scores of small shops sell toy jewelry.

Two items Reuters had tested, a butterfly hairpiece and a glittery earring and beret set, each had lead content above the 100 parts per million U.S. safety standard for toys. Both were Chinese imports. One was labeled “lead-safe.”

The city health department sometimes conducts sweeps, seizing dangerous products or ordering shops to destroy them. It recently found Mexican lead-glazed pottery and issued a public advisory.

But some shopkeepers aren’t aware of the warnings, or ignore them.

In the southern section of Brooklyn’s Ditmas Park area, more than 500 children tested high for lead from 2005 through 2015. Many families in the area emigrated from Pakistan and Bangladesh.

In New York, children of South Asian descent are found to have especially high blood lead levels more often than other children. Sometimes, the poisoning can be linked to imported products.

A string of bright blue, red and gold tubes containing eyeliner – known as ‘surma,’ ‘kajal’ or ‘kohl’ – can be found in many Ditmas Park shops. The cosmetic is sometimes applied to children and touted to improve eye health.

Two varieties reporters bought, both marked lead-free, had unsafe lead levels.

The label for Hashmi Surmi Special liquid, made in Pakistan, says it contains “0.00 percent” lead. Lab testing showed 4.7 percent lead, or 4,700 times the Food and Drug Administration safety standard for cosmetics.

The Hashmi brand website says its surma eyeliner should be used by little ones “right from their childhood to prevent stress on sight.”

Manufacturer A.Q. & Co acknowledged the product contains a lead compound, but said it’s safe when “used externally.”

Health departments disagree. Across the United States, several have linked use of surma to childhood poisoning cases.

New York City has warned against using or selling these products, and FDA guidance says they are illegal to import.

When reporters returned to the Bisillah Grocery Store where they bought the Hashmi eyeliner, a shopkeeper said he’d stopped sales months ago, after a customer had an “allergic reaction.” Reminded of a far more recent sale to a reporter, he said, “You must have bought one of the last bottles.”

The Hashmi eyeliner was still available in several other shops nearby.

Other products U.S. health departments have warned about were easy to find online for delivery to New York City doorsteps.

Reuters purchased leaded Indian Ayurvedic medicines from vendors on Ebay and Amazon.

One of them, Ovarin, is touted to improve women’s reproductive health. It was shipped from a vendor in India via Amazon.com Marketplace. “A Boon to the Womanhood,” its online marketing said. Lab testing showed it contains enough lead to potentially harm mother and unborn child when taken at the suggested dosage.

Its maker, Ban Lab, didn’t respond to interview requests.

Amazon.com removed the product from its website after hearing from Reuters that it was subject to health warnings.

Another product, Zandu brand Maha Yograj Guggul, indicated for joint pain and other ailments, was purchased from a vendor in New Jersey via Ebay.com and tested high for lead.

Manufacturer Emami Group acknowledged the product contains lead, as required by Indian regulations for certain Ayurvedic formulas. The product should only be taken under a doctor’s supervision, its packaging says.

Ebay said it would prohibit sale of the item. Amazon and Ebay said they continually monitor products for safety concerns.

OVERHEAD, UNDERFOOT

In Queens, the city subway’s Number 7 train rumbles overhead on an elevated track.

Last year, a painters trade union said it discovered that lead paint has been raining down on bustling Queens neighborhoods from the subway’s century-old structures. A Brooklyn federal judge set a hearing for this December to consider whether to declare a public health emergency.

Poisoning risks also lurk underfoot in some city areas, where past industrial or vehicle emissions, trash incineration, and runoff from buildings with old paint have tainted the soil.

On a late summer evening, reporters conducted soil testing with help from researchers along a path in McCarren Park, a popular family destination in Greenpoint, Brooklyn.

Columbia University Environmental Sciences graduate student Franziska Landes has been testing soil around the former industrial neighborhood for months. Among the scores of backyards Landes has tested, most have had at least one reading above the EPA’s 400 parts per million lead safety threshold for areas where children play.

Aiming a futuristic-looking XRF analyzer gun into the soil, Landes quickly found one spot, along a jogging path, whose reading was five times that level.

“Wow, that’s a high one,” Landes said. Several other readings on the same path were lower, but still above the EPA threshold.

Nagin, director of New York’s lead-poisoning program, said her department hasn’t usually prioritized soil risks in an urban environment where children’s access to yards is limited. She recently met with Columbia researchers and is taking a deeper look.

Soil researcher Joshua Cheng, a professor at Brooklyn College, said more vigilance is needed. Residents in affected areas should avoid tracking dirt into homes, wash children’s hands often, and place clean topsoil in spots testing high, he said.

“The lead levels found in Brooklyn backyards are often similar to areas where there has been past lead smelting activity,” Cheng said. “They’re comparable to Superfund sites.”

Sarah DuFord, a mother of two, was among the Greenpoint residents who invited reporters into her backyard to test.

One reading was below the EPA threshold, but others were around four times that level.

“This confirms my fears,” she said. Her next step: screening her 2-year-old for lead.

Then and Now – Childhood lead poisoning in New York: http://tmsnrt.rs/2mojaEm

(Additional reporting by Devika Krishna Kumar. Editing by Ronnie Greene)

Special Report: Thousands face lead hazards as Trump eyes budget cuts

MD Chowdhury sits in his living room with his wife, Nazneen Fatema, and daughters, Nafia, 2, and Nabiha (R), 7, during an interview about lead safety improvements made to their lead contaminated home in Buffalo, New York March 30, 2017. REUTERS/Lindsay DeDario

By M.B. Pell, Joshua Schneyer and Andy Sullivan

BUFFALO, New York (Reuters) – Laicie Manzella lived in a rundown house on Buffalo’s east side when three of her children tested with dangerously high levels of lead in their blood. Her oldest son suffered nosebleeds, body rashes and a developmental disorder requiring speech therapy.

Checking her apartment, county health inspectors found 15 lead violations, all linked to old paint in this blue collar city plagued by lead poisoning.

A Reuters investigation found at least four city zip codes here where 40 percent of children tested from 2006 to 2014 had high lead levels, making Buffalo among the most dangerous lead hotspots in America. The rate of high lead tests in these areas was far worse – eight times greater – than that found among children across Flint, Michigan, during that city’s recent water crisis.

Federal support has helped Manzella and other families in Buffalo and beyond. This month, her family moved into a gleaming, lead-free apartment renovated by a local nonprofit with funding from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.

This type of assistance may not last much longer. President Donald Trump is advocating deep federal budget cuts that would sap billions from programs used by state and local governments to protect children from the lifelong health impacts of lead exposure.

“If they go and snatch these funds away, where are we going to get help from?” Manzella said.

It’s a question being asked in cities across the United States bracing for cuts in programs that identify and eradicate lead poisoning hazards. Awareness of lead poisoning escalated following Flint’s crisis, and more recently from Reuters reporting that has identified more than 3,300 areas with childhood lead poisoning rates at least double those found in the Michigan city.

Some of the areas slated to be hit hardest supported Trump in November’s election, though he lost Erie County, where Buffalo is the county seat.

At least eight of the nine federal agencies sharing responsibility for lead poisoning prevention face potential budget cuts. But the heaviest lifting falls to HUD, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and the Environmental Protection Agency. Trump’s budget would cut at least $4.7 billion from programs at HUD and the EPA that support healthy housing and lead pollution cleanup efforts, a Reuters analysis found. Funding for a CDC program that assists states with poisoning prevention is uncertain.

Cuts would be felt across the country. The Trump administration would eliminate a $27 million program that trains private contractors on lead removal, and a $21 million program that funds lead abatement projects in Alaska, Illinois, Ohio, Oklahoma and California. It would kill a program that provided funds to a Rhode Island nonprofit to upgrade housing, and end a $970 million affordable-housing program that has fixed up dilapidated homes in hundreds of U.S. cities, including Flint.

If the cuts clear Congress, some experts fear the fight against lead could stall out for years.

“We are dooming future generations,” said Dr. Gale Burstein, health commissioner in Erie County. “Exposure to high lead levels causes brain damage to kids, learning disabilities and behavioral challenges.”

Instead of saving money, the cost of inaction could spiral, Burstein said. More children would be afflicted by learning disabilities and other neurological problems, leaving localities to foot the bill for treatment programs.

White House officials declined to comment.

Decades of lead abatement have sharply curbed childhood lead levels across the United States. But studies have shown no level of lead in the blood is safe, and poisoning persists in thousands of locales.

PINPOINTING HOTSPOTS

In December, Reuters used previously undisclosed data obtained from 21 states to pinpoint nearly 3,000 U.S. neighborhoods where poisoning rates among tested children were at least twice as high as in Flint.

Reporters have since obtained testing results covering eight additional states and expanded data from two more, including New York, Louisiana, New Jersey, Virginia, New Hampshire and California. The new data reveal another 449 neighborhoods with rates that high.

The communities stretch from affluent neighborhoods in the Los Angeles area to an impoverished quarter of Shreveport, Louisiana, to a rural town in Salem County, New Jersey, where Trump won 56 percent of the vote in November.

The data paints a partial picture. Reuters has not obtained neighborhood-level testing results for 21 states and the District of Columbia. These areas cited privacy concerns or said they do not have the data.

Still, the available results show the toxic metal remains a threat to millions of children.

Federal programs fund testing for children, cleanup of industrial lead hazards and poisoning-awareness efforts. Other programs require inspections or abatement in housing built before 1978, when lead was banned from residential paint.

The few planned funding increases under Trump may not be as beneficial as they appear. HUD’s Healthy Homes and Lead Hazard Control Program is slated to receive a $20 million boost, but the agency has proposed eliminating $4.1 billion worth of grant programs local officials say play a bigger role in reducing risks.

“I think you’re going to see more children, not fewer children, exposed to lead,” said Senator Jack Reed, a Democrat who has sought more funding for lead-abatement programs on the Senate subcommittee that funds HUD.

Congress, which controls federal spending, may not go along. A spokeswoman for Senator Susan Collins described lead-based hazards as “one of the most prevalent health issues facing children today.” She said the Maine Republican would use her position as head of the subcommittee that controls HUD’s budget to oppose cuts.

BUFFALO A HOTBED FOR LEAD

Buffalo has long fought a legacy of lead contamination. Blood data shows 17 city zip codes where the rate of tested children with high lead levels was at least double that of Flint – about 8,000 children over nine years.

“Nobody’s talking about Buffalo as ground zero for the lead problem, but when it comes to the levels of lead that’s been identified in children, it’s higher than what you see in Flint,” said Erie County Executive Mark Poloncarz.

Buffalo’s problem stems from a simple equation: Old houses plus high poverty equal lead poisoning. Older homes are often blanketed with lead paint, and the water pipes and fixtures typically contain lead. In poorer neighborhoods, homes are frequently neglected, leading to exposure from peeling paint or dust. Fifty-eight percent of the city’s housing was built before 1940; nearly 40 percent of residents live below the poverty line.

Still, Buffalo and Erie County have made progress. In 2007, three city zip codes had 50 percent of tested children with high lead levels. By 2014, the prevalence in those zip codes dropped to an improved, but still worrisome, 30 percent.

Progress came thanks to millions of dollars in federal assistance flowing to local programs.

From 2012 through 2016, Buffalo was granted $27.7 million from the now-threatened HUD HOME Investment and Partnerships Program. HUD’s blessing brought far greater resources to bear, with city, county and nonprofits using the grant to attract another $200 million to revitalize or replace 1,125 housing units, making them all lead-safe.

Among those helped: The Chowdhurys, a family of five who moved to the east side of Buffalo in 2010, settling in a neighborhood with one of the highest lead poisoning rates in the country.

Within two months, their one-year-old daughter, Nabiha, was found to have a lead level about twice that of the elevated threshold set by the CDC, five micrograms per deciliter. Any child at or above CDC’s threshold warrants a public health response, the agency says.

MD Chowdhury, a restaurant waiter, and his wife, Nazneen Fatema, didn’t know how their daughter was poisoned or how to help her, but Buffalo and Erie County did.

Local officials dispatched housing inspectors, nurses and contractors to identify and repair the lead hazards in the family’s home. Replacing the lead-paint coated windows and siding and installing a new roof cost about $40,000. Federal grant programs footed the bill.

Erie County’s Health Department receives $244,000 a year from the CDC to help fund five full-time employees and three part-time employees who refer at-risk children for testing, investigate the causes of lead poisoning and conduct educational home visits. Those staffers helped the family.

Chowdhury also took EPA-funded classes on how to safely remove lead-based-paint so he could do additional work himself.

Two years ago, the couple had another daughter. She has never tested high.

“Without these programs, it’s hard to know about lead, and my income is not enough to do all of the work we needed,” Chowdhury said.

Trump’s budget proposal would kill much of the funding that helped the family through its ordeal.

Buffalo Mayor Byron Brown said the case illustrates the larger peril of potential funding cuts. “There would be people who would fall through the cracks,” he said.

CARSON’S MIXED MESSAGE

While working as a pediatric neurosurgeon in Baltimore, Dr. Benjamin Carson saw the irreversible damage lead can cause in the brains of children living in substandard housing.

At his confirmation hearing in February to serve as Trump’s secretary of HUD, Carson told the Senate Banking Committee he would be “vigorous” in his efforts to reduce the tally of hundreds of thousands of poisoned children across the country.

“I’m looking forward to, you know, the Safe and Healthy Homes Program at HUD and enhancing that program very significantly,” Carson said.

But even Carson’s requested $20 million increase for HUD’s lead removal program falls short of the $29 million his agency says is needed to comply with a new policy that requires lead remediation of HUD properties where children have tested above the CDC threshold.

Other housing programs that play a bigger, if more indirect, role in protecting children’s health would be eliminated altogether.

Among them: the $125 million Choice Neighborhoods program, which provided funding to remove lead paint from New Orleans’ aging Iberville housing project, and the $970 million HOME Partnerships program, which helped the Chowdhurys clean up their house in Buffalo.

The biggest casualty could be HUD’s $3 billion Community Development Block Grant program.

Local officials use CDBG grants to fund projects from curb construction to rehabilitating old housing, with only a small portion, $10 million, directly used for lead safety standards in the most recent fiscal year.

But CDGB is crucial to poisoning prevention, since housing-related projects it helps are required to meet HUD guidelines for lead safety, said Marion McFadden, who oversaw HUD’s grant programs under President Barack Obama.

“If (cuts are) enacted, it would be a huge step backward,” McFadden said.

CDBG funds went toward lead-paint removal in cities including Milwaukee, Syracuse and Shreveport, Louisiana. All three had neighborhoods with documented lead poisoning rates at least twice Flint’s.

BUDGET CUTS IN AMISH COUNTRY

Health officials in the small city of York, Pennsylvania, two hours west of Philadelphia in Amish country, know how budget cuts like this can play out.

The city and surrounding York County, where Trump won 70 percent of the vote in November, have a serious lead poisoning problem. From 2005 through 2014, at least 30 percent of children tested in all but one of York’s census tracts had elevated lead exposure, according to CDC data. In one census tract, more than half of all tested children had high lead levels.

Trump lost the city of York, but other patches of the county hit hard by lead poisoning, including the borough of Red Lion, where 21 percent of children tested had high levels, overwhelmingly supported him.

In the mid 1990s, York had seven full-time and part-time employees working in the city’s lead prevention program who conducted screening and investigated lead exposure sources. Since then, CDC cuts have left the program with one part-time employee and no ability to conduct screening.

The results are telling. In 2005, 1,641 city children were screened for lead. In 2014, 169 kids received a lead test.

Trump’s plan to eliminate the $375,000 in Home Partnership funds the city uses to develop lead-safe housing would have dire consequences, said James Crosby, deputy director of the city’s Bureau of Housing Services.

“It would mean we would be out of business,” Crosby said. “If he eliminates the home program, we would have absolutely nothing.”

A HUD spokesman declined to comment on the impact the cuts would have. “HUD will continue to work very closely with state and local health and housing officials through targeted investments in specific programs to reduce childhood lead poisoning,” he said.

CUTS AT THE EPA

A similar pattern is emerging at the EPA, where Administrator Scott Pruitt is highlighting some lead remediation efforts while pushing to gut funding to enforce pollution laws and clean up contaminated sites.

During the confirmation process, Pruitt told lawmakers he would work to reduce exposure to lead. On Wednesday he visited East Chicago, Indiana, where the EPA has secured $42 million from chemical companies to remove contaminated soil from neighborhoods near a former lead-smelting plant. In one neighborhood, up to 20 percent of tested children had elevated lead-blood levels.

Trump’s budget proposal would preserve funding for the EPA program that helps cities like Flint buy new water pipes.

But Pruitt would slash other federal efforts, including a one-third cut of EPA’s Superfund and Brownfield programs, leaving hundreds of millions of dollars less to clean up areas contaminated by lead mining in southeast Missouri, tainted yards and parks in Omaha and old school buildings on the Standing Rock Sioux reservation in North Dakota.

Pruitt would also eliminate a $27 million program that trains private contractors on safe lead removal from buildings, internal documents show.

An EPA spokesman said the agency is weighing strategies to save taxpayers money while protecting the environment. “We’re trying to restore some accountability to these and other programs so that we can examine what has worked – and most especially, what hasn’t,” wrote spokesman J.P. Freire.

Funding levels for the CDC, which spent $17 million last year through the Childhood Lead Poisoning Prevention program to help state and local governments, have been the subject of great uncertainty.

Earlier this year Trump lobbied for a Republican health-care bill that would have repealed the Affordable Care Act. In the process, the bill would have eliminated the pool of public-health money that funds the CDC’s lead program. In March, the bill collapsed in the House of Representatives.

Last week, a White House official told Reuters the administration intends to keep funds flowing to the CDC program. By Monday, however, the official had backed away from that commitment and said the program’s fate is uncertain until the administration produces a more detailed budget proposal in May.

The last round of cuts to the CDC’s lead budget in 2011 slashed assistance to many state poisoning prevention programs.

Those cuts were a reason why Flint’s problems didn’t come to light sooner, said Mary Jean Brown, a public health specialist at Harvard University who directed CDC’s lead program at the time. Without the CDC lead program, Michigan conducted less monitoring of childhood blood levels from 2011 to 2014, and stopped reporting test results to the CDC.

This created “a big gap in data,” Brown said, contributing to Flint’s crisis going unchecked or being ignored by Michigan officials until a pediatrician, scientists and activists presented proof children had been sickened.

(Editing by Ronnie Greene)

Exclusive: Lead poisoning afflicts neighborhoods across California

A man passes a four unit building under renovation in Emeryville, California, United States March 20, 2017. Neighbor Joy Ashe says she is concerned about lead and other pollutants escaping during construction. To match Special Report USA-LEAD/CALIFORNIA REUTERS/Noah Berger

By Joshua Schneyer and M.B. Pell

NEW YORK (Reuters) – Dozens of California communities have experienced recent rates of childhood lead poisoning that surpass those of Flint, Michigan, with one Fresno locale showing rates nearly three times higher, blood testing data obtained by Reuters shows.

The data shows how lead poisoning affects even a state known for its environmental advocacy, with high rates of childhood exposure found in a swath of the Bay Area and downtown Los Angeles. And the figures show that, despite national strides in eliminating lead-based products, hazards remain in areas far from the Rust Belt or East Coast regions filled with old housing and legacy industry.

In one central Fresno zip code, 13.6 percent of blood tests on children under six years old came back high for lead. That compares to 5 percent across the city of Flint during its recent water contamination crisis. In all, Reuters found at least 29 Golden State neighborhoods where children had elevated lead tests at rates at least as high as in Flint.

“It’s a widespread problem and we have to get a better idea of where the sources of exposure are,” said California Assembly member Bill Quirk, who chairs the state legislature’s Committee on Environmental Safety and Toxic Materials.

(To see the Reuters interactive map of U.S. lead hotspots, click here http://reut.rs/2h55POf)

Last week, prompted in part by a December Reuters investigation pinpointing thousands of lead hotspots across the country, Quirk introduced a bill that would require blood lead screening for all California children. Now, just a fraction of the state’s children are tested.

The newest zip code-level testing data was released by the California Department of Public Health in response to a longstanding Reuters records request and adds to a limited set of numbers previously disclosed by the state. The numbers offer a partial state snapshot, covering tests conducted during 2012 – the most recent year for which information was provided – and in about one-fourth of the state’s more than 2,000 zip code areas.

Unlike other states that provided Reuters with results for all zip codes or census tracts, California withheld data from zip codes where fewer than 250 children were screened, calling such results less reliable. So, the available data – encompassing about 400,000 children tested in 546 zip codes – likely omits many neighborhoods where lead exposure remains a problem but fewer children were screened.

California’s Public Health Department said comparisons between the state’s blood lead testing results and those from other states aren’t warranted. It said the state tests children deemed at risk for lead exposure, such as those enrolled in Medicaid or living in older housing.

HOTSPOT IN FRESNO

“Testing of at-risk children, and not all children, skews California results to higher percentage of children tested showing lead exposure,” the state said.

Testing that targets at-risk children is common across much of the country, however. And, as Reuters reported last year, many at-risk children in California and other states fall through the cracks of these programs and go untested.

Blood tests can’t determine the cause of a child’s exposure, but potential sources include crumbling old paint, contaminated soil, tainted drinking water or other lead hazards.

In Fresno’s downtown 93701 zip code, nearly 14 percent of children tested had lead levels at or above 5 micrograms per deciliter of blood, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s current threshold for an elevated reading.

No level of lead exposure is safe, but children who test that high warrant a public health response, the CDC says.

Once common in household paint, gasoline and plumbing, lead is a neurotoxin that causes irreversible health impacts, including cognitive impairment and attention disorders in children.

In all, Fresno County had nine zip code areas where high lead levels among children tested were at least as common as in Flint. The Reuters article in December documented nearly 3,000 locales nationwide with poisoning rates double those found in the Michigan city along the Flint River.

The city of Fresno battles high poverty rates and problems with substandard housing, both risk factors for lead exposure. Some locals are also concerned with drinking water, after unsafe levels of lead were detected in at least 120 Fresno homes last year.

Fresno County’s lead poisoning prevention program conducts outreach across the city, and a program health educator, Leticia Berber, says exposure remains too common.

Still, she expressed surprise at the area’s high rate. “We haven’t looked at it that way compared to Flint,” Berber said.

Eight zip codes in Alameda County, which includes Oakland, had rates equal to or greater than those found in Flint. Other counties containing zip codes with high exposure rates included Los Angeles, Monterrey and Humboldt.

The exposure hotspots remain outliers. Around 2 percent of all California children tested in 2012 had lead levels at or above the federal standard, Reuters found.

Yet in the worst-affected zip codes identified statewide, more than 10 percent of children tested had an elevated lead level. In scores of others, less than 1 percent of children tested high. Three zip codes reported no high tests in 2012.

BAY AREA PLANS ACTION

In California, home inspections are required when a child’s levels reach 14.5 micrograms per deciliter, the state’s formal threshold for a “lead poisoning case.”

State and local health departments provide services, including educational materials, to some families whose children test at or above 4.5 micrograms per deciliter. Like other states, including Michigan, California rounds its blood lead test results up or down to the nearest whole number. So, a result of 4.5 or higher meets the CDC threshold.

In its December report, Reuters tracked California lead exposure rates based on the neighborhood-level data available at the time. The report showed hotspots such as the Fruitvale neighborhood of Oakland, where 7.6 percent of children tested high, prompting media coverage and new initiatives to protect children.

Lead exposure is common in other East Bay areas, including large parts of Oakland, and nearby Emeryville and Fremont, the new data shows.

In January, Oakland city council members introduced a resolution that would require property owners to obtain lead inspections and safety certifications before renting or selling houses and apartments built before 1978, when lead paint was banned.

Emeryville’s city council this month proposed an ordinance to require proof that contractors will adhere to Environmental Protection Agency standards – including safe lead paint removal practices – before they renovate older housing.

Emeryville Vice Mayor John Bauters said paint exposure isn’t the only risk. A long history of heavy industry in the East Bay also left contaminated soil in some areas.

In the Los Angeles area, the prevalence of high blood lead tests reached 5 percent or above in at least four zip codes during 2012.

Since August, a sampling of children tested from the Los Angeles neighborhoods of Westlake, Koreatown and Pico Union revealed about 5 percent with high lead results, said Jeff Sanchez, a public health specialist at Impact Assessment, which helps Los Angeles run its lead poisoning prevention program.

“The more you look,” Sanchez said, “the more you find.”

(Reporting By Joshua Schneyer and M.B. Pell. Editing by Ronnie Greene.)

Contaminated water found throughout the U.S.

Water from Faucet

By Kami Klein

Drinking water and unsafe levels of lead are back in the news and it’s not about Flint Michigan this time.. Schools in the Bronx, Pennsylvania and in Massachusetts have shown levels of lead higher than in Flint.  In fact, Reuters reported nearly 3,000 areas with recently recorded lead poisoning rates that were at least double of those in Flint during the absolute peak of the city’s crisis. What is alarming is that more than 1,100 of these communities had a rate of elevated blood tests at least four times higher than those tested in Flint, Michigan.

Lead poisoning has been shown to permanently stunt a child’s intelligence and development.  In adults, lead poisoning can damage the brain and nervous system, the stomach, and the kidneys. It can also cause high blood pressure and other health problems.

There are other contaminants other than lead to be worried about in our drinking water.

Evidence was gathered by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) from samples of more than 60,000 water systems in all 50 states between 2013 and 2015.  These samples show that the tap water of 218 million Americans contain high levels of chromium 6. In fact, this carcinogen turned up in as much as two-thirds of our nation’s water supply! These high levels of chromium 6 were deemed unsafe by public health officials. Oklahoma, Arizona and California had the highest average statewide levels of the chemical found in their drinking supply. This was the poison in the water that got Erin Brockovich upset enough to take on huge corporations in the attempt to clean it up and help families who suffered from cancer and other disease stemming from the groundwater becoming contaminated.

Over 50% of the U.S. population depends on groundwater for drinking water. But contamination is being discovered daily from industrial waste, sewage, fertilizer runoff and pesticides.  In the United States there are thought to be over 20,000 known abandoned and uncontrolled hazardous waste sites and these sites could contaminate the groundwater if there is a leak. Research into who is monitoring these sites has not turned up a definitive answer.

Do we really know what is in our water when we drink it?   Most people want to have faith in the laws and the standards that are set for our cities but what is being discovered  in many areas, are that those standards are not being met nor are they being brought to the attention of the public.

More than half of Americans are buying bottled water assuming it is safe but bottled water is not consistently tested and there has been E Coli as well as other contaminants found in them as well.  A proven filtering bottle to carry with you or a filtering system at home, not only makes sense for your health and for your family, but is smart for the pocketbook as well!

Water is life.  Standards recommended by health officials say to drink at least 64 oz per day.  Clean drinking water is a priority for your health.

Seychelle Filtration Systems

(Additional Sources: 1. Lead in Water: What are the health Effects and Dangers , 2.Water lead levels in Bronx school ‘higher than Flint, Michigan’,3. Groundwater Contamination, 4. How safe is bottled water? 5.Public water supply is unsafe for millions of Americans, 6.Environmental Science and Letters, 7. Centers for Disease Control,8. Mother sues Pennsylvania school district over lead-tainted water

 

Mother sues Pennsylvania school district over lead-tainted water

water fountain representing lead story

By Jonathan Allen

NEW YORK (Reuters) – A mother has sued a Pennsylvania school district for a delay in telling parents that the water at her daughter’s school was contaminated with toxic levels of lead, according to a complaint filed in U.S. federal court on Wednesday.

The Butler Area School District told parents in a letter on Jan. 20 that test results, which they acknowledged receiving five months earlier, had found leads levels at Summit Elementary School “exceeding acceptable water standards.”

Jennifer Tait, whose daughter attends the school, says officials should have said something as soon as the test results came through last August, according to her lawsuit filed in U.S. District Court in Pittsburgh.

Despite lead abatement efforts beginning in the 20th century, when lead was once commonly used in pipes and paint, communities across the United States continue to be exposed to dangerous levels of the metal. Lead poisoning can permanently stunt a child’s intelligence and development.

The issue came to the fore again in 2015 after state officials in Michigan acknowledged that the water supply in the city of Flint had been contaminated by lead.

In her lawsuit, Tait accuses school district officials in Butler of a “gross delay” in notifying parents, saying her daughter and other students routinely drank water tainted with toxic levels of lead for the five months between when the school district’s received the test results and when it sent out the letter.

The district officials’ actions in effect created “a school full of poisonous drinking water,” the lawsuit said. Tait is seeking damages for negligence, among other charges, and is asking the court to allow others at the school to join in the lawsuit.

William Pettigrew, the school district’s acting superintendent, referred questions about the lawsuit to the district’s lawyer, who did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

Pettigrew said he took over after Dale Lumley, who is named as a defendant in the lawsuit, resigned and retired on Sunday. Lumley could not immediately be reached for comment.

In an earlier statement, Lumley said a school maintenance official failed to share the worrying test results with him or the district’s board until Jan. 19, the day before he sent out the letter to parents and sought out a supply of bottled water for students.

The district’s director of maintenance also resigned this week, Pettigrew said.

“The school is closed under my recommendation,” Pettigrew said. The children are now being taught in a vacant school building nearby, he said.

The school’s water was found to contain lead at levels nearly four times higher than federal limits, with one sample measured at 55 parts per billion, according to the Jan. 20 letter, which is posted on the district’s website.

(Reporting by Jonathan Allen; Editing by Bill Rigby and Leslie Adler)