Map: Where high lead levels were found at San Diego child care centers
More than 130 child care centers in San Diego County had lead levels above the state’s baseline of five lead parts per billion. In California one in four centers tested so far had elevated levels.
Facilities that find high levels must correct the problem. Assembly Bill 2370 required them to test for lead by January of this year.
The CDC maintains there is no safe level of lead. So what if it is found in drinking water? KPBS spoke to a medical toxicologist who says there is no simple answer.
"It’s a conversation ultimately to have with your pediatrician," said Dr. Justin Seltzer, medical toxicology fellow and emergency room physician with UC San Diego Health.
Seltzer said lead poisoning that requires immediate intervention usually does not come from drinking water — instead it more often comes from old paint or other types of prolonged exposure. He said in toxicology there is not a true threshold dose of lead ingested associated with negative effects.
"I can’t say, 'Well you had 87,000 particles of lead oxide and therefore this is what you’re going to discern,'" Seltzer said. "We don’t have that information. But what we do know is that the longer and more intense the exposure the higher the likelihood you’re going to develop the things we’re talking about. Those are neurobehavioral abnormalities, those are kidney problems and cardiac problems, hearing issues, delayed language development."
Seltzer said when it comes to potential lead exposure, the total picture needs to be looked at. For example, how long someone might have been exposed, did the lead come from a source of water that was regularly used, and what were the potential exposure levels?
"If they say, 'Well you were only at that day care one day a month for two hours — yes I understand that day care was a problem — but the likelihood of having a huge exposure was low and we’re not going to do anything about it because you don’t go there anymore,'" Seltzer said. "Versus, you spend eight hours a day, five days a week there because both parents work and you’ve been going there since you were two years old and now you’re four. That’s a very different person and a very different conversation."
With that information, a pediatrician can determine if a blood test is necessary to determine lead toxicity.
A spokesperson from the California Department of Social Services told KPBS if a child care center finds a lead level higher than 5.5 parts per billion they will be cited and need to immediately stop using the water source. If they want to keep that sink or drinking fountain in use, facilities have 30 days to make repairs or replace it and retest.
"The department is tracking lead remediation, including repairs, and other related data," said Jason Montiel, a spokesperson with the California Department of Social Services. "However, this information is not readily available in the aggregate."
California law requires child care centers built before 2010 to test for lead.