VERNON, Calif. (AP) — Children living near the now-closed Exide Technologies battery recycling plant had higher lead levels in their blood than those living farther away, but lead paint in older homes may play a big role in the findings, according to a state study released Friday.
The California Department of Public Health analyzed blood lead levels from nearly 12,000 children under the age of 6 who were tested in 2012 — the last full year that the suburban Los Angeles plant was operating.
Around 3.6 percent of the children living within a mile of the plant had elevated lead levels and the percentage fell to around 2.4 percent for children living farther away, the study found.
Both figures are higher than the 2012 figure of around 2 percent for children in Los Angeles County as a whole, the report said.
The percentages were for children who had 4.5 micrograms of lead or more per deciliter of blood.
However, the study found that the impact of living closer to the plant was smaller when researchers factored in the age of the children's homes.
"This appears to be because older housing is more common in the areas closer to the Exide facility," said a news release from the state Department of Toxic Substances Control, which requested the study.
"Older housing often has lead hazards because lead content in paint was not strictly limited until 1978," the release said.
The study found that fewer than 2 percent of the children tested had elevated lead levels in areas where most homes were built after 1940, the release said.
"Exide is studying the analysis, and the company is not surprised to see that the age of the housing stock - indicating the likely presence of leaded paint - is an important predictor of blood lead levels," Exide said in a statement.
Local, state and federal officials had cited Exide for decades for emitting too much lead and arsenic and for violating hazardous waste laws both in and around the 15-acre plant and on the highways where its trucks traveled.
Exide, which filed for bankruptcy in 2013, closed the plant last year. The company agreed to pay about $50 million to clean up the site and several hundred nearby homes
The Department of Toxic Substances Control has spent about $7 million to remove some 10,000 tons of lead-contaminated soil from communities a few miles southeast of downtown Los Angeles in a heavily industrial area.
In February, Gov. Jerry Brown spending $176.6 million for further testing and cleanup of thousands of homes that may be contaminated by lead. The state Senate approved the funding on Thursday.