Toxic lead levels are dangerously high in Oakland’s Fruitvale district, which has the highest level of contamination in California and are worse than in Flint, Michigan, according to a national report recently published by Reuters.
Unlike Flint’s contaminated water crisis, which caught national attention in 2015, Oakland’s lead is not in the water but is coming from old buildings and chipping paint that is getting into the dirt and being tossed up in the wind.
The result is that 7.57 percent of children under the age of seven who were tested have high levels of lead in their blood, the highest in the state after children living in Monterey.
Larry Brooks, director of the Alameda County Healthy Homes Department, says that it is imperative for residents and property owners to notify officials if they believe lead is a problem in their home.
“If you’re seeing deteriorating paint and the building was built prior to 1978, there’s a good chance that the peeling paint probably has lead in it,” Brooks told the Post.
“Contact your landlord and let them know that there’s deteriorating paint and that you’re concerned,” he said. “They can hire people who do lead investigation services and can take sample paint to do risk assessments.”
Another important thing that families should do is get their child blood lead tested if they are under the age of seven, since childhood exposure to lead can cause long term developmental problems.
People should also not do any type of lead removal, such as sanding down walls or repainting deteriorating paint, unless they are certified to do so.
According to Brooks, a lot of tenants are afraid to inform their landlords of unsafe living conditions for fear of retaliation.
“It is (a property owner’s) responsibility to disclose hazards that they know exist within the house” and to correct hazardous problems when they are brought up, he said.
“Landlords run the risk of liability if it’s found that they were told to address this issue and they did not and as a result a child gets lead poisoning.”
James Vann, co-founder of the Oakland Tenants Union, says that it doesn’t cost the property owner to have a county inspector do an inspection on the building.
Once the tests have been done and they reveal dangerous lead contamination, building owners are required by law to remediate the problem.
“This kind of remediation is for the health and safety of the residents and the costs should not be passed on to the tenants,” Vann said.
Tulio Ospina is the assistant editor of the Oakland Post and editor-in-chief of El Mundo.