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Paint flakes off a residence in Emeryville, California, United States March 20, 2017. "It's very likely this house has lead paint," said Emeryville Vice-Mayor John Bauters. Photo by Noah Berger/Reuters

Some California children exposed to higher lead levels than those in Flint

Children in 29 California neighborhoods have been exposed to high levels of lead poisoning that rival those of Flint, Michigan, according to data Reuters obtained from the California Department of Public Health.

In one Fresno community, about 14 percent of children tested for lead levels higher than the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s threshold of five micrograms per deciliter of blood.

Comparatively, 5 percent of children in Flint tested above the CDC threshold during the early stages of that city’s contaminated water crisis.

High lead levels were also found in parts of downtown Los Angeles and the Bay Area. In Alameda County, eight communities reported levels equal to or greater than Flint’s rates. In Los Angeles, four communities reached or surpassed Flint’s levels.

Statewide, about 2 percent of all children tested in 2012 had rates that reached or surpassed federal standards, Reuters reported.

No amount of lead is considered safe, but the CDC’s threshold has been established to indicate elevated levels. High rates of lead poisoning can harm a child’s nervous system, kidneys and other organs, and can also lead to learning and behaviors problems.

State officials conducted the tests about five years ago and looked at children under the age of 6 who were at risk for lead exposure. This included children enrolled in Medicaid or children who lived in older homes.

By comparison, officials in Michigan tested children living at or below the poverty levels, as well as children enrolled in Medicaid.

While the tests are unable to determine the source of the lead poisoning, officials said potential causes include lead-based paint, contaminated soil or drinking water.

Our love/hate relationship with lead is as old as history itself. The origin of “plumbing” comes from the Latin word for lead. But only in the 1970s did we realize the consequences of even low doses of the hazardous metal, and by then it was in our pipes, our paint and our fuel. Science correspondent Miles O’Brien examines the lasting health consequences.

In an effort to address the lead poisoning concerns, local prevention programs have been providing services including testing recommendations and counseling programs to help families affected by lead exposure.

Additionally, California assemblymember Bill Quirk recently introduced a bill requiring all children in the state to be tested for lead.

“As a scientist and chairman of the Assembly Environmental Safety & Toxic Materials Committee, it is important to me that we collect blood lead data for all children,” Quirk said in a statement. “This will make sure all kids have access to health care services for lead exposure. More comprehensive data will also help the state better identify where there are lead exposure clusters.”

WATCH: How and why we need to get the lead out of our lives

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