Los Angeles County health officials continue to work with schools, child-care centers and hospitals to raise awareness about lead's dangers. During a workshop at an elementary school in Gardena, health educator Deborah Reff told parents about the causes of poisoning and the importance of screening.
"Don't assume your child has been tested," she said. "Ask your doctor. That's very, very important."
Nelly's blood test results showed a blood-lead level of 22.9 micrograms. A nurse dispatched by the county counseled the family on how to clean the apartment and what to feed Nelly. An inspector also checked the paint, dust and toys, and worked with the landlord to replace two windows and a door where lead was found, Gomez said.
Nelly's lead level dropped just below the level requiring action by public health officials, her father said. She seems back to normal, but Gomez said he worries about the possible long-term effects.
Finding hazards before children exhibit symptoms like Nelly's is critical, experts say.
Cities and counties can inspect properties for possible lead hazards and compel owners to correct problems. But in Los Angeles County, there is a patchwork of code enforcement, and housing and building and safety agencies — some very proactive and others less so, advocates and officials said.
For its part, the county public health department tries to pressure landlords to make repairs but isn't always effective, said Jonathan Freedman, chief deputy director. "It becomes particularly thorny in low-income communities," where landlords sometimes can't or won't make fixes, he said.
With limited resources, organizations like St. John's Well Child and Family Center in Los Angeles work with community groups to organize tenants, assess housing conditions and push landlords to make repairs. The clinic also provides medical care to children with elevated lead levels that fall short of the state's threshold.
Marc Brown and his wife took their son, Aidan Brown, to St. John's for a physical just before he turned 3. Aidan's blood-lead level was 5.7 micrograms. "He never showed any signs," Brown said.
St. John's worked with the family to make changes to the diet and the home, where the paint was peeling. Follow-up testing showed Aidan's lead level had dropped back down. "We followed what they said to do and it worked," Brown said.