Arsenic, lead, PFAS chemicals; A toxic brew is being found in our drinking water and it’s getting worse.

Water in glass, Clean drinking water

By Kami Klein

Water…we are all taught from an early age that drinking water is a must for our body to remain hydrated and flush out the bad stuff.  Health authorities commonly recommend eight 8-ounce glasses, which equals about 2 liters, or half a gallon per day. The American people seem to be getting the message and are drinking more water than ever before. but reports and studies recently released are creating increasing alarm about the many dangerous chemicals that we are consuming with every drop. Americans get drinking water from private wells, tap water from public water treatment plants and in buying bottled water. Many concerned consumers are urging scientists for in-depth analysis of the health risks for each.  

Groundwater contamination

The United States Geological Survey says that about 44 million people in the U.S. get their drinking water from private wells. Surveys show about half of those have their wells tested at least once a year.  When flooding occurs, such as in this spring’s historic storms, thousands can be exposed to a dangerous mix of materials in their water.

Many in the Midwest that are affected rely on groundwater for rural and small municipal water supply. Household, farm, and small business wells situated in broad, sand and gravel valleys and glaciated rolling countryside could be standing in water for several days, raising the potential for contamination if the wells aren’t properly maintained. Exposure to E. coli, coliform, and other pathogenic microbes from human and animal fecal matter in floodwaters is a common health concern following a major flooding event.

But there is a growing problem in many states that has nothing to do with flooding.   And that is from a natural substance found in our soil…Arsenic.

Though arsenic can be found in the air and soil, the World Health Organization says the greatest threat to public health globally comes from groundwater, which is contaminated as it flows through rocks and minerals containing arsenic and resides in wells and tributaries.  

In a recent study published by the American Heart Association Journal, the dangers of increased and prolonged exposure to arsenic in water and in some food such as rice are becoming more evident. The study found that young adults free of diabetes and cardiovascular disease developed heart damage after only five years of exposure to low-to-moderate levels of arsenic commonly found in groundwater. Arsenic has also been linked to various cancers, kidney damage, hypertension, cardiovascular disease and diabetes.

“It is important for the general public to be aware that arsenic can be a risk factor for cardiovascular disease, the study’s lead author, Dr. Gernot Pichler said. “Private wells are currently not regulated and people using private wells, including children and young adults, are not protected.”

Millions Exposed to PFAS chemicals

In a recent report by the non-profit Environmental Working Group and Northeastern University, it has been found that people in nearly every state in the U.S. are exposed to unhealthy drinking water both in private wells and through public water systems. According to researchers, 43 states have locations, including drinking water sites, contaminated with PFAS chemicals

Taken from Pentagon data and water utility reports the study shows an estimated 19 million people are exposed to contaminated water. PFAS, are synthetic chemicals found in many products, including food packaging, household cleaners and nonstick cookware, according to the U. S. Environmental Protection Agency

In an interview with CBSN, David Andrews, a senior scientist for the Environmental Working Group said, “This should be frightening to all Americans in many ways. these chemicals… don’t break down in our body and they don’t break down in our environment and they actually stick to our blood. So levels tend to increase over time.”

The EPA stated in March 2019 that 92 percent of the water used every day by Americans meets all of the EPA requirements for safe drinking water.  According to Andrews, the EPA  has not set a new legal drinking water limit for any contaminant in over two decades. And feels that the whole system of regulating chemicals that may end up in our water is broken.  “The agency is really falling behind the science here.”

But let’s say that the EPA is correct and do the math on their claims. Nationwide, 327 million Americans each drink two to eight glasses of water on average every day. If 8 percent of that supply doesn’t meet EPA standards, that’s up to 209 million unsafe glasses of water per day, or 2.3 billion gallons of water—enough to fill a quarter of a million bathtubs. In short, high compliance numbers do not mean everything is fine.

In May 2019, Representatives from both parties of Congress released a half-dozen bills in response to PFAS contamination. The bills range from providing more funding for communities tasked with the cost of treating contaminated water to increasing transparency in reporting chemical flows and prohibitions on products with PFAS.

But as many consumer groups have stated, the damage is there and many feel that it would take decades to fix this ever-increasing problem.  

Filtered is Best

Many have turned to bottled water as a safer alternative. In fact, Americans consume more than 8.6 gallons of bottled water each year.  Studies on the health risks of bottled water have shown that plastic these bottles are made of and can basically leak into the water.

BPA, a component often found in plastic, is a hormone disruptor that can have a wide range of impacts on the human body, including hormone imbalance, toxicity, inflammation, and even cancer.  BPA isn’t even the only component of plastic that is potentially dangerous—there are dozens of other chemicals that can have adverse effects on the body, endocrine system, and other organs.

What is the solution?  How do we keep our family from toxic chemicals?  How do we know our water is safe?

The best solution is to filter your water.  Bottled water, which many believe is the best alternative is costly.  A good filtering system can save you money and remove ALL of the chemicals used to treat water as well as those that are leaking into our water systems.  

There are many advances in the past decade of filtering systems that remove more than 99 percent of pathogens, bacteria, lead and more.

The light on the problems with our water quality are becoming brighter by the day. In the meantime, we must tackle the problem with common sense and safety in mind.  A filtering system for your drinking water is what makes the most sense for YOUR health and for your family.

 

There are many water filtration systems out there.  Morningside highly recommends Seychelle products.  

References for this Article: Newsweek, CNN, CBS, Agency for Toxic Substances, National Groundwater Association, Livescience.com, World Health Organization,

Exclusive: U.S. Army forms plan to test 40,000 homes for lead following Reuters report

FILE PHOTO: Professor Alexander Van Geen, Research Professor of Geochemistry at Columbia University, tests lead samples from Fort Benning, Georgia at the Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory in Palisades, New York, U.S. March 29, 2018. REUTERS/Mike Wood/File Photo

By Joshua Schneyer and Andrea Januta

NEW YORK (Reuters) – The U.S. Army has drafted a plan to test for toxic lead hazards in 40,000 homes on its bases, military documents show, in a sweeping response to a Reuters report that found children at risk of lead poisoning in military housing.

The inspection program, if implemented, would begin quickly and prioritize thousands of Army post homes occupied by small children, who are most vulnerable to lead exposure. Ingesting the heavy metal can stunt brain development and cause lifelong health impacts.

The lead inspections would cost up to $386 million and target pre-1978 homes to identify deteriorating lead-based paint and leaded dust, water or soil, according to the military documents.

A draft Army Execution Order says the program’s mission is to mitigate all identified lead hazards in Army post homes in the United States. In homes where dangers are detected, the Army would offer soldiers’ families “temporary or permanent relocation” to housing safe from lead hazards, it says.

The Army’s mobilization comes after Reuters published an investigation on August 16 describing lead paint poisoning hazards in privatized military base homes. It documented at least 1,050 small children who tested high for lead at base clinics in recent years. Their results often weren’t being reported to state health authorities as required, Reuters found.

Behind the numbers were injured families, including that of a decorated Army colonel, J. Cale Brown, whose son JC was poisoned by lead while living at Fort Benning, in Georgia.

The article drew a quick response from lawmakers, with eight U.S. senators demanding action to protect military families living in base housing.

The Army’s planned response is laid out in military documents, including the draft Execution Order, minutes from a private meeting attended by top Army brass, and other materials.

One priority, detailed by Under Secretary of the Army Ryan McCarthy in an August 22 meeting, is for the military’s response to counter any sense “that we … are not taking care of children of Soldiers and are not taking appropriate action quickly enough,” meeting minutes say. “The Army will remain focused on the actions to assess, inspect, and mitigate risks to Soldiers and Families,” the minutes say, citing McCarthy and Vice Chief of Staff General James C. McConville.

Army spokeswoman Colonel Kathleen Turner acknowledged plans are being formulated but said no decisions have been made. “Out of an abundance of caution, we are going above and beyond current requirements to ensure the safety of our soldiers and their families who work and live on all of our installations,” Turner said in a statement. “We are currently evaluating all options to address these concerns.”

Old lead-based paint becomes a poisoning hazard when it deteriorates, and poor maintenance of military base homes can leave legions at risk. About 30 percent of service families – including some 100,000 small children – live in U.S. military housing owned and operated by private companies in business with the military.

There are nearly 100,000 homes on U.S. Army bases, and the lead inspections are expected to focus on the approximately 40,000 built before a 1978 U.S. ban on the sale of lead paint.

The plans depart from guidance that appeared on the Army Public Health Center’s website as recently as last week, which “discouraged” lead-based paint inspections in Army homes. The website has since been updated and omits that language.

Under the plans, the documents show, the Army would:

– Inspect all pre-1978 Army family housing units nationwide, including visual lead-based paint assessments by certified personnel, swipe-testing for toxic lead paint dust, and testing of tap water. Some homes will also receive soil testing. This phase alone, described as “near-term actions,” will cost between $328 million to $386 million, the Army’s Installation Services director estimated.

– Temporarily or permanently relocate families when hazards are found. “If a Family or Soldier are concerned with potential negative impacts from lead; the U.S. Army will offer them a chance to relocate to a new residence,” the documents say. “We must do everything we can to maintain that trust.”

– Conduct town hall meetings on Army posts to address residents’ lead concerns. The Army intends to do so with “empathy,” the meeting minutes say. “Tone is key and can be just as important as the actions we take.”

The documents leave some questions unanswered. They don’t say how long it would take to inspect all 40,000 homes. Also unclear is whether the Army has funds immediately available for the program, or would need Congressional authorization to set them aside.

The Army would ensure that the private contractors who operate base housing “are meeting their obligations” to maintain base homes, the documents say and would require them to show compliance with lead safety standards through independent audits.

The documents do not discuss whether private housing contractors would bear any of the costs of the lead inspections, or how any repairs would be funded.

In most cases, Army post homes are now majority-owned by private real estate companies. Under their 50-year agreements with the Army, corporate landlords operating military housing agreed to control lead, asbestos, mold, and other toxic risks present in some homes, particularly historic ones.

FAMILIES, SENATORS PRESS FOR ANSWERS

The Army plans come as base commanders and housing contractors face a wave of complaints about potential home lead hazards, and a rush of military families seeking lead tests for their children.

Last week, the hospital at Fort Benning, where Reuters reported that at least 31 small children had tested high for lead exposure in recent years, began offering “walk-in” lead testing. Some concerned families are already being relocated; in other homes, maintenance workers are using painter’s tape to mark peeling paint spots that residents found contained lead by using store-bought testing kits.

Lead poisoning is preventable, and its prevalence in the United States has declined sharply in recent decades. Still, a 2016 Reuters investigation documented thousands of remaining exposure hotspots, mostly in civilian neighborhoods.

Last week, eight senators, including Republican Johnny Isakson of Georgia and Democrat Claire McCaskill of Missouri, pushed amendments to legislation to examine and address the military’s handling of lead exposure risks.

In coming weeks, Army officials plan to meet with lawmakers to address their concerns, the military documents show.

(Edited by Ronnie Greene and Michael Williams)

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)

Michigan adopts strictest lead water rules in the United States

FILE PHOTO: Running tap water is seen in a city struggling with the effects of lead-poisoned drinking water, in Flint, Michigan, U.S., May 4, 2016. REUTERS/Carlos Barria/File Photo

y Gina Cherelus

(Reuters) – Michigan on Thursday adopted the strictest U.S. rules to guard against lead in drinking water, a move sparked by the Flint water crisis that exposed thousands of city residents to the toxic chemical, officials said.

Michigan Governor Rick Snyder, who has been criticized for his slow response in the crisis, said state officials decided to exceed federal standards in plans to lower the state’s requirement for lead concentration levels in water.

“As a state, we could no longer afford to wait on needed changes at the federal level, so Michigan has stepped up to give our residents a smarter, safer rule – one that better safeguards water systems in all communities,” he said in the statement.

Flint, facing an extended economic decline since the 1980s, came under the control of a state-appointed emergency manager in 2011. To save money, the city of about 100,000 residents in 2014 temporarily switched its water source from Detroit’s municipal system to the Flint River, which was more corrosive and caused more lead to leach from aging pipes, causing health problems.

The crisis prompted a rash of lawsuits by parents who say their children, who are especially vulnerable to lead poisoning, had dangerously high levels of the chemical in their blood.

Under new standards set by the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality, the maximum level of allowable lead in drinking water will drop to 12 parts per billion in 2025. The federal level as mandated by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is 15 parts per billion.

All public water systems are required to replace the state’s 500,000 lead service lines at a rate averaging 5 percent per year beginning in 2021 over a 20-year period.

The new rules prohibit partial lead service line replacement due to the potential for elevated lead levels that could harm public health. Most public water systems are required to perform a full system inventory detailing all parts and materials used.

“The new Michigan Lead and Copper Rule is the most stringent in the world when applied to cities with lead pipe – yet it strikes a reasonable balance between cost and benefit,” Virginia Tech professor Marc Edwards, a water engineer who first raised the issue of Flint’s lead contamination, said in an email.

(Reporting by Gina Cherelus in New York; Editing by Richard Chang)

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)

Michigan to charge top medical official in Flint water deaths

A sign is seen next to a water dispenser at North Western High School in Flint, a city struggling with the effects of lead-poisoned drinking water in Michigan, May 4, 2016.

(Reuters) – Michigan’s top medical official will be charged with involuntary manslaughter for her role in the city of Flint’s water crisis, which was linked to an outbreak of Legionnaires’ disease that caused at least 12 deaths, state prosecutors said on Monday.

Dr. Eden Wells, who already faced lesser charges, would become the sixth current or former official to face involuntary manslaughter charges in connection with the crisis.

The state intends to add involuntary manslaughter and misconduct in office to the other charges of obstruction of justice and lying to police that Wells already faces, a spokeswoman for Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette said.

An attorney for Wells, the state’s chief medical executive, could not immediately be reached by Reuters but Jerold Lax, one of her attorneys, told the Detroit Free Press they only learned of the proposed additional charges at a pre-trial hearing on Monday.

The charges stem from more than 80 cases of Legionnaires’ disease that were believed to be linked to the water in Flint after the city switched its source from Lake Huron to the Flint River in April 2014.

Wells was among six current and former Michigan and Flint officials charged in June. The other five, including Michigan Health and Human Services Director Nick Lyon, were charged at the time with involuntary manslaughter stemming from their roles in handling the crisis.

Involuntary manslaughter is a felony that carries a sentence of up to 15 years in prison.

In court documents, prosecutor had previously said Wells lied to police about when she became aware of the Legionnaires’ outbreak and that she threatened a team of independent researchers who were studying the source of the disease.

Special prosecutor Todd Flood said Monday he was seeking the new charges based on new review of documents and testimony that came out last week, the newspaper said.

The crisis in Flint erupted in 2015 when tests found high amounts of lead in blood samples taken from children in the predominantly black city of about 100,000.

The more corrosive river water caused lead to leach from pipes and into the drinking water. Lead levels in Flint’s drinking water have since fallen below levels considered dangerous by federal regulators, state officials have said.

 

(Reporting by Peter Szekely in New York; Editing by Bill Trott)

 

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.)

Lead levels fall below federal limits in Flint, Michigan: state

Flint Water Tower in Michigan

(Reuters) – Lead levels in Flint, Michigan’s drinking water, the focus of a public health crisis, have fallen below federal limits, state officials said on Tuesday, although they cautioned residents to keep using filtered water as the city’s old lead pipes are replaced.

Tests showed lead levels in the city’s drinking water were 12 parts per billion (ppb) between July and December, below the federal limit of 15 ppb, Michigan officials said in a statement.

The water crisis erupted when tests in 2015 found high amounts of lead in blood samples taken from children in Flint, a predominantly black city of about 100,000.

Flint was under the control of a state-appointed emergency manager when it switched its water source to the Flint River from Lake Huron in April 2014. The more corrosive river water caused lead to leach from pipes and into the drinking water.

Lead poisoning stunts children’s cognitive development, and no level of exposure is considered safe. Flint’s contamination prompted dozens of lawsuits and criminal charges against former government officials.

The city switched back to the previous water system in October 2015.

Flint’s lead levels are now comparable to levels in cities of similar size and with infrastructure of similar age, Michigan Governor Rick Snyder said in a statement.

Even with the test results, programs that provide water filters and related services will continue, he said.

“This is not the end of our work in Flint, but it is one more step along the path toward Flint’s future,” said Snyder, a Republican who has been sharply criticized by residents for his handling of the crisis.

Flint’s mayor, Karen Weaver, said in a statement she would continue efforts to replace the estimated 20,000 lead-tainted pipes that remain in the city.

“We are not out of the woods yet. My goal has not changed. All of the lead-tainted pipes in Flint still need to be replaced,” she said.

Flint resident Melissa Mays, a plaintiff in a drinking water lawsuit, said the results were misleading because only one-third of Flint homes had been tested and the state had not identified which homes have lead pipes.

“Until they get every home to test zero, they should not be making these statements,” she said. “It’s giving residents a false sense of security.”

In December, Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette charged four former officials with conspiring to violate safety rules, bringing to 13 the number of current and former officials charged in connection with the crisis.

(Reporting by Susan Heavey in Washington and David Ingram in New York. Additional reporting by Timothy Mclaughlin in Chicago.; Editing by Jeffrey Benkoe and Peter Cooney)