Children in neighborhoods surrounding the shuttered Exide battery-recycling plant in Vernon had lead in their baby teeth, with the concentrations rising consistent with the amount of lead found on their families' properties, according to a new USC study.
"We found the higher the level of lead in the soil, the higher the amount of lead in baby teeth,'' Jill Johnston, an assistant professor of preventive medicine at the Keck School of Medicine at USC, and one of the study's authors, said in a statement. "There's no safe level of lead. It's a potent neurotoxin. Our study provides insight into the legacy of the impact of industrial contamination on children.''
Researchers said there have been few studies on lead in teeth, but their findings showed that baby teeth from children near the Exide plant had double the amount of lead found in a similar study conducted in Boston.
According to the study, which was published in Sunday's edition of Environmental Science & Technology, USC researchers examined 50 baby teeth from 43 children in the communities of Boyle Heights, Maywood, East Los Angeles, Commerce and Huntington Park. Teeth from Boyle Heights and East Los Angeles children showed the highest levels of lead, followed by Maywood, Huntington Park and Commerce.
According to the study, higher exposure was noted in some cases as occurring while the baby was still in the womb, indicating that the mother's lead exposure was passed onto her unborn child.
Researchers matched the lead levels in teeth with soil contamination figures gathered by the state Department of Toxic Substances Control — showing a correlation between soil-lead levels and the amount of lead in baby teeth.
"Higher lead in teeth means higher lead in the brain, kidney and bones,'' Johnston said. "Testing women for lead during pregnancy, or even earlier, as they enter childbearing age, may be needed to decrease lead exposure to their future offspring.''