OAKLAND – Children in many parts of Oakland are among the most at risk to be poisoned by lead, even though the dangerous metal component was banned decades ago, a new study found.
The Racial Equality Impact Analysis concludes that Oakland is the epicenter of lead contamination in Alameda County, with Latinos and blacks hard hit.
“The results of this analysis and the recommendations for reducing racial disparities in lead poisoning signal great changes in the way the lead elimination work is being carried out in Alameda County,” said Darlene Flynn, director of the Oaklands Department of Race and Equity, the the study had been commissioned by the company Environmental / Justice Solutions.
“This means that data will be used to prioritize mitigation, screening, contacting and education actions in high-risk areas and serving the populations most likely to live in high-risk housing,” she added.
The study reviewed data from the State Department of Public Health that showed that 53% of the 1,589 lead-poisoned children in Alameda County were from Oakland between 2013 and 2018.
And of the 116 census counties in the county identified as having lead risk above the statewide 75th percentile, the 22 most “polluted” counties were all in Oakland. These accounted for the top 5% of census areas across the country, which are considered to be most at risk.
The boroughs are located in the San Antonio, Fruitvale, and East Oakland neighborhoods, which are mostly black, Latino, and Asian residents.
Other affected areas identified by the analysis include neighborhoods in Hayward and unincorporated parts of the county.
The most vulnerable areas have “a confluence of low household incomes, older rental housing, substandard housing, concentrations of older housing and a high percentage of low-income families with children under six,” the study concludes.
The analysis was conducted while Oakland and Alameda County argued over how to split up the $ 24 million they received as part of a legal settlement with lead paint manufacturers.
In 2001, Oakland and Alameda County sued Santa Clara, Los Angeles, Monterey, San Mateo, San Francisco, Ventura, and Solano counties, and the city of San Diego, suing paint companies Sherwin-Williams, ConAgra Grocery Products, and NL Industries, Inc. for the sale of products that they have marketed as safe despite knowing the health risks of lead.
Because lead is corrosion and water resistant, it was a popular part of paint and pipes decades ago. However, lead is also poisonous, and people who breathe it – through paint chipping, for example – can over time suffer from an impaired nervous system and a variety of other conditions. The federal government only banned the use of lead paint in 1978.
Health experts say there is no such thing as a “safe” concentration of lead. Even small amounts in young children or babies can hinder normal development and lead to brain damage, learning disabilities, and speech and language disorders, among other things.
The lawsuit against the paint makers resulted in a $ 305 million settlement in 2019, of which $ 24 million went jointly to Oakland and Alameda Counties to either reduce lead risks or educate people about lead poisoning.
However, until that month the two could not agree on how to split the money. They finally agreed on a cut of 60% for the city and 40% for the county.
With the $ 9.6 million it will receive immediately, the county intends to “improve and expand existing lead poisoning prevention services” and “reduce childhood lead and support families with lead-contaminated children,” it says in a memo from the community development agency of the district sent to the board of directors at the beginning of the month.
But the city will only get 20% of its stake for now as it continues to work on implementing a plan to fix its lead problem.
An earlier city analysis that found that certain neighborhoods are hardest hit by lead poisoning recommended proactive inspection of rental properties, certification of lead-safe childcare facilities, collecting and maintaining databases of known lead hazards and what is being done about them, and the community for the dangers of Sensitize lead.
City guides have promised to implement these recommendations by launching an ambitious new program that would send inspectors to look for lead rather than just responding to complaints.
The city and county also agreed to later decide whether to use the remaining settlement funds for this program or to expand the county’s leading prevention efforts to Oakland.
In a statement accompanying the publication of the study, Assistant City Administrator LaTonda Simmons said Oakland “is committed to ensuring that these settlement funds address the needs of those most exposed to lead”.