Lead Poisoning Dangers in Emeryville

Monday, May 15, 2017

In December 2016, Reuters published a report on lead poisoning rates nationwide. This report detailed how as many as 3,000 U.S. communities were being adversely impacted by lead, many at rates much higher than the now-infamous situation in Flint, MI. This study found high blood lead levels (BLLs) in children here in Alameda County. Unlike Flint, the cause for higher BLL results in Alameda County is generally due to lead-based paint and soil contamination, not water. The complete list of sources for lead is rather extensive and includes things many wouldn't believe, including candy, makeup, costume jewelry and toys. You can browse a more complete list of lead sources HERE.

The Centers for Disease Control state that no level of lead is safe for children and that it causes lower IQ, attention issues in children and reduces academic achievement. The effects of lead poisoning are irreversible, making prevention important.

Emeryville is part of a Joint Powers Authority (JPA), along with Berkeley, Alameda, Oakland and Alameda County, that serves as the Board of Directors to the Alameda County Healthy Homes Department. Alameda County was the first in the nation to create a department with a comprehensive program that integrated services around lead remediation and poisoning treatment. As a member city of the JPA, Emeryville residents can access and do all of the following:

Reuters released a new set of research data on lead poisoning in March 2017. This report discussed Emeryville and other cities because of what it revealed: the most common sources of lead poisoning in Alameda County remain lead-based paint and contaminated soil, most likely from the historic industrial activities in the city (leaded-gasoline, burning of scrap metal, etc).

The EPA adopted the Renovation, Repair and Painting Rule (RRP Rule) several years ago. This rule remains federal law today. The rule requires anyone working on a pre-1978 structure to be certified in lead-safe practices. Because lead is a metal, it does not dissolve with the rest of old paint - it breaks off into tiny pieces of dust that can be inhaled or ingested by children during renovation, causing severe and permanent damage. Lead safe certification requires a one-day training on techniques that prevent lead dust from entering the home, a neighbor's home, or going home with a contractor to their own home on clothing and equipment. All contractors who work on pre-1978 homes are already supposed to have this certification by law.

Recently, however, the federal administration has proposed to gut the portion of the EPA that includes the division responsible for administering and enforcing lead safety for kids. These changes do not eliminate the lead safety rules, they simply remove the teeth that enforce them. Even now, the EPA Region 9 Office told me they have been reduced to just TWO enforcement staff for all of the southwestern United States. The result is that more children may be in danger of unsafe renovation practices on homes with a prior history of lead-based paint. Given the amount of proposed construction, demolition and home renovation occurring in our community, it is important to the City Council that we take steps to protect residents and children from practices and activities and could put our children at risk.


The City Council received an informational presentation from the Alameda County Healthy Homes Department on March 7th in which they discussed the serious health dangers of lead poisoning and ways to limit risk in our community. You can view that presentation by visiting this video link. The presentation begins at 01:43:45.

As a result of that hearing, the City Council decided to take action recommended to us by the County Department, which included requiring proof from contractors doing work on pre-1978 structures covered by the RRP Rule of their compliance with the federal lead-safe requirements. Doing so ensures that we are helping prevent children from unnecessary and dangerous exposure to lead in the environment by ensuring that contractors have been certified under the federal law before they do work that could put kids at risk.

On May 2nd the City Council formally adopted this Lead Safety Ordinance, requiring proof from contractors working on structures covered by the federal law that they were compliant with the law. The Council did not change any of the existing federal requirements for lead-safe practices adopted by the EPA.

Because we recognized that some homeowners may not be familiar with this requirement and did not have to produce this certification to the city before, the Council took several additional steps to ensure that the community had an opportunity to prepare for this change:

  • The ordinance will not take effect until May 1, 2018.
  • The city will be sending notice of the requirement to produce certification to owners of property covered by the RRP Rule in the next four months.
  • The Alameda County Healthy Homes Department generally offers the one-day training to get this certification twice a year. The Department will work with city staff to bring 1-2 additional trainings here to Emeryville specifically for the benefit of any homeowner or contractor working in our city who would needs certification.
    • Certificates are good for five years.
    • Certification costs $75 for an individual or homeowner and $175 for a firm. Any Emeryville homeowner can take the course for free but you can not be issued a certification without the fee.
  • Any property owner who has an application for remodel, repair or renovation on a new project before this ordinance becomes effective will not be subject to the proof requirement for that project.

Because lead-safe practices require the use of a HEPA vacuum cleaner, I will be looking into whether the city can acquire one for a short-term loan program to homeowners doing their own repairs, as some other communities do for homeowner renovations.

Protecting our planet and the environment is bigger than a social cause: it is an investment in our children and their future. That includes their right to live with healthy minds and bodies. Thank you for taking the time to read this information, feel free to share it with others.