Read Larry Brooks Article in San Francisco Chronicle: "Bay Area communities need to get the lead out of aging housing"
Excerpt from Larry Brooks SF Chronicle article January 6, 2017 - read the full article here
Imagine that you are a small child eating from a bag of potato chips near a window and wall that has cracked paint. You are curious. You see the paint chips and decide to compare it to the potato chip. You pick it up and take a bite. The top layer of the chip is recent paint and not very yummy but the under layers taste sweet like candy!
Do you continue eating the potato chip or the paint chip? Or both?
In Oakland every year, the Alameda County Healthy Homes Department sees children who chose the sweet lead-based paint chips.
Or have crawled among the paint crumbs and dust found in their home, housing built before 1978 when the federal government banned the use of lead in house paint. These children have become lead poisoned, and their lives as well as their parents’ lives will be forever changed.
Oakland has thousands of lead-poisoned children. The cause is old housing with crumbling lead-based paint, not lead-tainted water as in Flint, Mich.
A report released last month by Reuters showed that 7.57 percent of 500 children sampled in Oakland’s Fruitvale district had elevated levels of lead in their blood — higher than the 5 percent of children lead-poisoned in Flint. Before that report, whispers about potential lead poisoning in Oakland were dismissed as an “East Coast phenomenon” or a crisis contained to Flint. In our city by the bay, you are more likely to hear or read in news stories about how gentrification is fueling the high price of housing and creating the situation that resulted in the tragic Ghost Ship fire (which also happened in the Fruitvale district).
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention once stated that a child is lead-poisoned when his or her blood lead level is 5 micrograms per deciliter. Today, the centers say there is no safe level of exposure. Last month, our department was asked to help a hospitalized child whose blood lead level was 72 micrograms per deciliter.
Half of the tragedy in Oakland is that so many are living in lead-tainted housing. The other half of the tragedy is that once the child is treated and the home made lead safe through our staff working with parents and the landlord, there is the permanent neurological damage that will impact the entire community for a lifetime.
As we learned from the Flint tragedy, lead poisoning can occur when drinking water is delivered through aging lead pipes. Lead exposure also can come from wall paint and products such as car batteries, gasoline, solder, stained glass, crystal vessels, ammunition, ceramic glazes, jewelry, toys and in some cosmetics and traditional medicines.
Lead is a neurotoxin, which damages organs, bones and brain cells. It is estimated by the World Health Organization to account for 9.8 percent of the global burden of idiopathic intellectual disability, 4 percent of the global burden of ischemic heart disease, and 5 percent of the global burden of stroke. Thus many lead-poisoning cases do not end with treating the patient to reduce the amount of lead in the body, discovering the source and preventing further exposure. Instead, there is often the need to place the child in special education, physical therapy and social services programs.
Parents of lead-poisoned children may need to undergo counseling to manage the stress of navigating their children through these programs and to address feelings of guilt. The stress and guilt have been known to contribute to divorces in families with lead-poisoned children as well as child abandonment. And adults who have been lead poisoned as children have been linked to aggressive and criminal behavior impacting the mental health and criminal justice system.
A 2009 study by Elise Gould at the Economic Policy Institute in Washington concluded:
“Even under the most conservative analysis, every dollar spent on controlling lead hazards would return at least $17 in improved health outcomes, increased IQ, higher lifetime earnings, increased tax revenue, less spending on special education and reduced criminal activity.”
Identifying lead-tainted properties is difficult. Landlords are not running to our door to say they have lead hazards, and tenants are not in a hurry to blow the whistle and risk a retaliatory eviction.
Lead poisoning is preventable, but only if everyone remains constant in their efforts to protect themselves from lead exposures.
Larry Brooks is the director of operations for the Alameda County Healthy Homes Department, which includes the Childhood Lead Poisoning Prevention Program. @LawrenceWBrooks To comment, submit your letter to the editor at http://bit.ly/SFChronicleletters.
A prescription for children poisoned by lead
42 percent of Oakland’s housing was built before World War II — before paint containing lead was banned.
59 percent of city households reside in rentals.
The result: 5,000 cases of lead-poisoned children in Alameda County over the past 10 years, and lost income and contributions to society when those children become adults.
Source: Alameda County Healthy Homes Department and City of Oakland Planning, Building and Neighborhood Preservation
How to save lives while improving communities
Here are a few prevention strategies for every city or county:
Offer universal blood-lead testing for high-risk communities. Typically, the first sign of lead poisoning is when the child is diagnosed with a learning disability. If your community doesn’t have such a program, then write, email, or call your city council members and school board trustees and lobby for one.
Inspect buildings for lead hazards and abate them before children are poisoned. The city of Oakland is considering a routine rental inspection program that could help relieve tenants of the burden of telling on their landlords about lead hazards and numerous other health and safety issues. Federal funding for lead abatement, however, is scarce and prospects for new grants are dim.
Ensure that contractors, tradespeople and do-it-yourselfers become certified by the Environmental Protection Agency to renovate, repair and paint buildings with lead hazards.
Require that any work that disturbs lead paint — sanding, for example — is done so as not to poison the building’s occupants, neighbors and workers.
Contribute to charitable organizations that can in turn offer community grants for lead-poisoning prevention and abatement.
Contact your legislator and encourage him or her to support new legislation that would seek remediation funds from the companies that continued to make lead-based paint after its hazards were known. A 2013 Santa Clara Superior Court case that resulted in an order for paint manufacturers to create a $1.1 billion fund for lead-abatement efforts in communities throughout California remains mired in the state appeals court process.
Learn about policy prescriptions and sign the National Center for Healthy Housing’s petition for its Find It Fix It Fund It campaign at nchh.org and spread the word about it with #FindFixFund. We need to tell Congress we must stop poisoning our children.
— Larry Brooks