Recent reports about lead contamination in Oakland’s Fruitvale
have East Bay residents wondering about the source of the toxic heavy metal. It turns out that renovating homes, business, and schools built prior to 1978 is one major point of origin. All the cutting, sanding, and pounding can create leaded dust and chips, which then contaminate nearby surfaces and soil.
Not all contractors follow safety rules designed to prevent lead dust from spreading.
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency announced last Thursday fines against twelve Bay Area businesses, including an Oakland general contractor, for lacking certification that’s required to work on buildings covered in lead paint.
Best Value Home Improvements of Oakland was fined $38,990 after an inspection revealed that the company was not in compliance with the EPA’s Renovation, Repair and Painting Rule.
Certification is required of all firms working on homes, child-care centers, and pre-schools built before 1978, the year lead was banned for use in commercial paint products.
According to the EPA, Best Value illegally worked on four residential properties in 2013 and early 2014 in Oakland, Alameda, Piedmont, and Millbrae. The company also didn’t keep mandatory records showing their workers followed lead-safe practices, nor did they provide clients with a brochure about lead safety during renovation work.
A representative of the EPA said that it conducts approximately 50 inspections each year of firms that perform lead-based paint renovations in the Pacific Southwest region, which includes California, Nevada, Arizona, and Hawaii. The number of inspections performed in specific local areas can vary from year to year.
Contacted by the Express
, Best Value’s owner, Frank Ghorban, declined comment regarding the EPA settlement.
To become lead certified, contractors must complete an online form and make a single payment of $300 every five-years. In October, the EPA held free daylong lead-safe trainings in Oakland for small contractors and day laborers, who are also at risk of lead poisoning.
According to EPA records, Best Value obtained lead certification in July 2014 after being cited by the EPA. The company is now in good standing.
There are 109 other renovation firms in Oakland that are currently certified under the EPA’s lead program, according to the EPA.
Very young children are especially vulnerable to lead to contamination. Those with elevated levels of lead in their blood can develop behavioral, learning, and hearing problems.
Lead contamination is especially bad in Oakland’s Fruitvale neighborhood, a fact that highlighted by a recent Reuters investigation
. Many Fruitvale houses and apartment buildings were constructed before 1978, and roughly 8 percent of 502 children tested positive for lead poisoning, according to 2012 data collected by state environmental authorities.
According to Alameda County’s Healthy Homes Department, 97 percent of 292 soil samples collected from yards in Alameda County with bare soil between 2009 and 2011 had lead contamination capable of raising a child’s lead blood level. More than 60 percent had levels high enough to be considered a lead hazard in play areas, and more than a 20 percent of the samples exceeded the state’s definition of hazardous waste.
Alameda County offers resources, including financial assistance, for owners of property that were constructed before 1978. But the EPA is the main enforcement mechanism to inspect contractor compliance with lead renovation rules.
Last week the EPA also fined eleven uncertified San Francisco construction companies a total of $42,000 for submitting bids to perform renovations at elementary schools. The fines, ranging from $1,000 to $9,000, were levied because SFUSD requires all firms bidding on contracts to complete the EPA’s program. None of the businesses actually did any work on the school’s property related to the fines.
“Lead paint is one of the most common sources of lead poisoning in children,” Alexis Strauss, the EPA's Acting Regional Administrator for the Pacific Southwest, said in a statement. “With its new policy, San Francisco Unified sets a strong example of how a school district can protect students from lead dust resulting from renovation.”