OAKLAND, Calif. (BCN) - Oakland City Councilman Noel Gallo said today that he already knew that children in the Fruitvale district that he represents are exposed to high levels of lead but was surprised to learn that the levels are more dangerous than those in Flint, Mich.
Gallo said the revelation in a recent Reuters article that 7.5 percent of children in the Fruitvale district who were tested had elevated levels of lead, compared to 5 percent of children in Flint during the height of its water contamination crisis, "is really concerning to me."
He said the story also hit home because the 94601 zip code area where children were tested is where he grew up and where he raised his four children.
"This is both a public health issue and an environmental justice issue," Gallo said.
The problem in Flint was lead contamination in its drinking water but the problem in Oakland is in lead-based paint on buildings that winds up in dirt and air.
Gallo said the fact that the problem in the Fruitvale district isn't caused by water is reassuring to some extent but he said the problem of elevated levels of lead in children still needs to be addressed.
According to the Alameda County Healthy Homes Department, the data about the Fruitvale district in Reuters' story is from a 2012 California Department of Public Health study on lead poisoning in which 502 children under the age of six were tested for lead and 38 children were identified to have been exposed to lead through paint, soil or cultural practices.
The Reuters story says that the average nationwide rate of elevated lead levels in children is 2.5 percent.
The Reuters story said the Fruitvale district was one of nearly 3,000 areas across the country with lead poisoning rates higher than those in Flint during the peak of its contamination crisis. In some areas of the U.S. more than 40 percent of children have elevated levels of lead in their blood, according to Reuters.
Gallo said reducing the high lead levels in the Fruitvale district "is a challenge" because it has many old apartment complexes that have lead paint and warehouses that have chemicals and oils.
He said Oakland has received federal grants to fight its lead problem but it hasn't done enough.
"I thought that we had moved forward a lot but I guess we haven't," Gallo said.
The Healthy Homes Department, which is part of the Alameda County Community Development Agency, said it encourages parents who are concerned about the lead exposure of their children who are under the age of six to contact their medical provider to ask for a blood lead test because that's the only way to know if their children have been exposed.
The East Bay Municipal Utility District said in a statement that it "shares our communities' concern about lead's impact on public health" but it agrees with the Healthy Homes Department's conclusion that the most common sources of lead in area homes are paint and soil, not water.
EBMUD said it provides "high quality tap water" to its 1.4 million customers in Alameda and Contra Costa counties and "extensive testing shows that our water meets or surpasses all federal and state drinking water requirements, including the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's Lead and Copper Rule."
The water agency said it also it has had a corrosion control program since the 1930s to prevent corrosion in water pipes and if any lead pipes exist in homes or private properties its corrosion control practices minimize lead from leaching into the water.
In addition, EBMUD said it is offering lead tap sampling at homes or businesses and information and resources on lead poisoning are available on its website.