Children in the Fruitvale neighborhood of Oakland are exposed to dangerous levels of lead, and a new report finds that contamination levels are even higher than those of Flint, Michigan. Reuters reported on Wednesday that 7.57 percent of Fruitvale children tested had high levels of lead in their blood — prompting fears that the toxin was in the water supply. However, according to CBS 5, the water is not to blame. Instead, officials point to lead paint peeling off of neighborhood homes.
"In Flint, the problem was the water system,” Larry Brooks of the Alameda County’s lead prevention program told the channel. “In Alameda County, no.” He added that “deteriorated lead-based paint can be found throughout Oakland," and that "most of the homes built in Oakland were built prior to 1980; 90 percent.”
Officials with the East Bay Municipal Utility District (EBMUD) agreed with Brooks, telling ABC 7 that the water met or passed federal safety standards. However, just because water is not the source of the problem does not mean that the contamination isn't widespread. Brooks argues that it's not just Fruitvale that has a lead problem. “Over the last ten years, we've treated over 5,000 children for lead poisoning in the county,” he explained. “It is still a clear and present danger for children living in aging homes.”
Any level of lead in the blood is dangerous, noted Brooks. “My goal would be zero percent.”
Five hundred children were tested in the study, and the 7.57 percent with high levels of lead in their blood surpassed the national average of 2.5 percent and Flint levels of 5 percent. "In children up to age 6, the CDC threshold for an elevated blood lead level is 5 micrograms per deciliter," Reuters reports. "Any child who tests high warrants a public health response, the agency says; even a slight elevation can reduce IQ and stunt development."
This problem will not be easy to fix, but Oakland City Councilman Noel Gallo told ABC 7 that public officials must act. "We need to address that issue that's the bottom line, whether this takes county, East Bay MUD, federal government, we need to be more responsive to the children of East Oakland."