LOS ANGELES, AUG. 29 -- On-the-job lead poisoning is rampant in California, two state-run studies reveal. A medical journal editorial called the findings shocking and said they reflect a national scandal.

A third study, yet unpublished, estimated at least 2,500 California children under age 17 have potentially toxic levels of lead in their blood because they live near factories that use lead or in homes with lead-based paint.

The research by California's Department of Health Services shows that "you literally have thousands of people exposed to an agent that's been known to be toxic for centuries," said Kenneth Kizer, the department's director and co-author of two of the studies. "We can now verify there are substantial numbers of people who are being poisoned," Kizer said in a telephone interview from Sacramento.

Lead, a toxic metal, is widely used in battery manufacturing plants, brass foundries, construction, radiator repair shops, gun firing ranges and pottery and ceramics plants.

Lead poisoning can cause anemia, high blood pressure, stomach upset, constipation, headaches, infertility, miscarriages, possible nervous system and brain damage, joint pain, kidney damage, convulsions and coma.

The two studies of adult workers were published in the August issue of the American Journal of Public Health. They demonstrate "there's an epidemic of occupational lead poisoning in California," said Neil Maizlish, chief author of one of the studies and a state epidemiologist in Berkeley. "These data, combined with {earlier research} data from Texas, New York and New Jersey collectively show there is an epidemic of occupational lead poisoning in the United States."

The studies blamed California's on-the-job lead-poisoning problem on employers' ignorance of lead exposure laws, company doctors' ignorance of how to recognize and treat lead poisoning and weak enforcement by overburdened state and federal occupational health agencies.