In past 2 years, Oakland tested 200 children with high lead levels

OAKLAND, Calif. (KTVU) — Families in Oakland are still scrambling after learning their children are being exposed to dangerous levels of lead.

This after a recent Reuters report compared the Fruitvale neighborhood to Flint, Michigan when it comes to elevated levels of lead found in children.

Local leaders say the likely sources are soil and paint, not water.

“Oh yeah, that’s pretty high,” said Doug Henderson with the Alameda County Healthy Homes Department.

You would hope that that kind of reaction is few and far between. In Oakland, a city filled with industrial properties and older homes, the discovery of lead in paint and soil is more common than you would think.

“In 2015 and 2016 we had approximately 200 children with levels above five in our county,” said Julie Kurko, public health nurse with the Alameda County Healthy Homes Department.

Five micrograms per deciliter is the threshold for lead levels in blood, according to the CDC.

Nationwide, 2.5 percent of children have elevated levels of lead. In Flint, Michigan it’s 5 percent. In Fruitvale it’s 7.5 percent.

“I was surprised a little bit with the comparison to Flint because that’s been getting a lot of attention,” said Dale Hagen, Housing Programs Director with ACHHD. “I think that reinforced for us that this is an area that really needs attention and resources.”

So we asked the Alameda County Healthy Homes Department to show us the process of lead remediation. Their lead project designer, Doug Henderson, walked us through the first step: the testing process.

“It’s an x-ray machine for paint,” he said.

Using the XRF machine, they’re able to test all layers of paint. Believe it or not, most homes built before 1978 are presumed to have lead paint. Sometimes the source isn’t as obvious as you may think.

“This column right here has a little bit of deterioration on it so that could be a lead hazard,” said Henderson.

It’s like a domino effect; that chipping paint can fall into the dirt, or worse the soil could already be contaminated with lead. Oftentimes, lead lies in the dust settled on the window sills or the floor of the home.

“The idea is you go back and forth in one direction and we want to pick up all the dust in that square foot area,” said Henderson.

Once all those results come back, it’s the county’s job to get the landlord or property owner to cooperate in getting rid of the lead hazard.

“We have about an 85 percent success ratio in working with the owners with our cooperative compliance model that allows us to work with the property owners in a collaborative way to make sure their homes are fixed,” said Kirko.

With the help of grants from HUD, Alameda County can offer the property owner up to $10,000 per unit to remedy the issue.

Looking ahead, they’re considering other options too.

“There are discussions now underway with Oakland as far as exploring the possibility for universal testing required for high risk communities,” said Larry Brooks with the Alameda County Healthy Homes Department.

Right now, pediatricians are only required to test at-risk children at 12 and 24 months. Their target group: children receiving public funds like WIC or mediCAL. County leaders fear other children are slipping through the cracks.

“There are plenty of other families that are more well-to-do that are renovating older homes,” said Kirko.

Do it yourself projects have become more popular, but with it come risks of lead exposure.

“When you’re sanding or removing walls, doors, fixtures, frames or whatever, you can create lead dust and that can be an issue that stays in the home,” said Hagen.

Much like the soil, kids play in it; they crawl or walk around it and even ingest it. Sometimes lead exposure is so high it requires a trip to the ER.

“There are children that have to hospitalized and go through IV chelation to pull the lead out for immediate relief of the amount of lead in their blood,” said Kirko.

There are no symptoms to look for, just lasting developmental effects only noticed in school-aged kids.
It’s all the more reason why taking proactive steps is key to saving our children.

If you would like to have your home tested or inspected for lead, reach out to the Alameda County Healthy Homes Department to see if you qualify for one of their assistance programs. They also can provide information on contractors that can do the testing for you.

Here is the link to the county’s website for lead info: