New Racial Equity Analysis Confirms Oakland is a Hot-Spot for Lead Contamination; Concentration is Greatest in Low-Income Communities of Color

Date Posted: December 21st, 2021 @ 11:22 AM
Last Updated: December 22nd, 2021 @ 1:10 PM
map showing Oakland as hot-spot for lead contamination in Alameda County

Oakland, CA – The City of Oakland released a new report today, Racial Equity Impact Analysis: Eliminating Lead Paint Hazards in Oakland & Alameda County, that provides a thorough analysis of the equity impacts of lead contamination and poisoning in Oakland and provides recommendations to guide the City of Oakland and Alameda County in designing an equitable lead hazard abatement program.

“The findings of this analysis and the recommendations to reduce racial disparities in lead poisonings signal major changes in how lead abatement work needs to be done in Alameda County,” said Darlene Flynn, Director of Oakland’s Department of Race and Equity. “Centering equity in the City’s work is baked into the City of Oakland’s municipal code; we are applying those equity standards to the lead abatement work going forward. This means using data to prioritize abatement, testing, outreach, and education activities in high-risk areas, and serving the populations most likely to live in high-risk dwellings.”

“The City is deeply committed to ensuring that these settlement funds are focused on addressing the needs of those most deeply affected by lead contamination. Using the principles of the Race and Equity Analysis ensures that the re-design of the program meets those very critical needs," said Assistant City Administrator LaTonda Simmons.

Commissioned by the City’s Department of Race & Equity, the Racial Equity Impact Analysis concludes that, “Lead poisoning caused by lead paint remains a dire threat to public health, well-being, and life outcomes in Oakland and Alameda County. The problem is so large that the rate of lead poisoning in some Oakland zip codes is higher than in Flint, Michigan at the height of its lead in the water crisis. Lead paint hazards disproportionately affect low-income and Black, Indigenous, and Latinx communities due to the prevalence of older, dilapidated housing, which exposes children in poverty to lead paint hazards at the greatest rates. Moreover, after lead exposure, children in poverty suffer greater harms than children from higher-income families.”

No Level of Lead Exposure is Safe; Costs $150 million per Year

According to the report, the Centers for Diseases Control and Prevention (CDC) no level of lead exposure is safe. “For young children, blood lead levels

below 5 μg/dL can harm normal development patterns, and impair nervous system development, resulting in permanent brain damage, learning disabilities, speech and language deficiencies, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, and aggression. Many of the health impacts are irreversible, causing lifelong debilitation, including delinquency, and antisocial behaviors.”

A study conducted by the City’s Department of Planning & Building estimated that medical services, special education, disabilities, and lost wages due to lead poisoning, cost city residents upwards of $150 million each year.

In Alameda County, Oakland is Ground-Zero for Lead Contamination

The report highlights several data points showing the prevalence and concentration of lead contamination and poisoning in Oakland, and the significant, disparate impact on Latinx and Black populations.

“The most recent CDPH data from 2013-2018 shows 1,589 lead poisoned children in Alameda County, of which 53% were found in Oakland.

African Americans and Latinos are overrepresented statistically in lead poisonings. The 15 census tracts where the most lead poisoned children were found are primarily in San Antonio, Fruitvale, and East Oakland, which are predominantly Latinx, Black and Asian, and have a confluence of low household incomes, older rental properties, substandard housing conditions, concentrations of older housing, and a high percentage of low-income families with children under the age of six.” These residents have the fewest options for curing lead hazards in their childrens’ environment and must be the highest priority in both the City and the County’s program designs.

As depicted on the map below, “CalEPA’s Draft CalEnviroScreen 4.0 includes an indicator that assesses the percentage of homes with higher likelihood of lead hazards along with the percentage of households that are both low-income and have children. Children younger than 6 years of age, with rapidly developing brains, are most at risk of lead poisoning.

“There are 116 census tracts in Alameda County that have lead risks above the 75th percentile statewide.

  • The 22 most burdened tracts are all located in Oakland
  • All of the 22 census tracts with the greatest lead risk are in the top 5% of census tracts statewide.
  • 14 of the 22 tracts also have cumulative burdens above the 75th percentile statewide.”

Equity Impact Analysis Provides Framework to Allocate

$24 million from a Settlement with the Lead Paint Industry; Oakland to Receive 60% of the Settlement Funds

The impetus for the Equity Impact Analysis was to provide a framework for how to allocate $24 million to the City of Oakland and Alameda County from a settlement with the lead paint industry. In 2001, the City of Oakland, Alameda County were among 10 cities and counties that sued the lead paint industry for knowingly selling and marketing their products as safe, despite knowing the significant health risks of lead, especially for children. The landmark litigation resulted in a $305 million settlement; $24 million was allocated to the City of Oakland and Alameda County, which share jurisdiction.

On December 21, the Oakland City Council authorized a Memorandum of Understanding, which was also authorized by the Alameda County Board of Supervisors on December 16, 2021, allocating 60% ($14 million) of the settlement funds to the City of Oakland to fund lead poisoning prevention services within the City and 40% of the funds ($9.6 million) to fund lead poisoning prevention services within Alameda County but outside of Oakland. The City will receive 20% ($4.8 million) now to fund development of an Equity-Based Lead Program to implement the recommendations outlined in the Equity Impact Analysis.

Oakland’s Equity-Based Approach will be Proactive, Targeted

Oakland’s equity-based approach will use data to shift the lead-abatement model from one that is complaint-driven and passive, with efforts spread widely across the County, to a proactive and targeted approach, focusing primarily on older, dilapidated housing occupied by low-income families, which carries the highest levels risk for lead contamination and poisonings. This is also the most cost-effective means to reduce lead hazards.

According to the Equity Impact Analysis, “The gold standard—the most direct way to prevent childhood lead poisoning—is to completely remove lead hazards from the dwellings and day care centers where young children spend significant

amounts of time before a child is exposed.” This means proactively discovering lead-based paint hazards and totally abating them, and using blood lead testing and follow-up services as a secondary prevention effort.

Nine Key Recommendations

The Equity Impact Analysis presents nine holistic and proactive recommendations for Oakland and Alameda County to “eliminate racial

disparities in exposure to lead paint hazards, and reduce the severity and number of new cases of lead poisoning.” These include:

  1. Improve ongoing ability to screen for and eliminate lead hazards through proactive approaches: (a) proactive inspections of rental properties dwellings and (b) lead-safe certification requirements for childcare facilities and schools.
  2. Prioritize abatement, testing, outreach, and education activities in high-risk areas and serving the populations most likely to live in high-risk dwellings.
  3. Ensure efficient remedy of lead hazards and simultaneously address all habitability issues and all sources of lead in the places at-risk children spend time.
  4. Ensure robust data collection; compile a database of all lead hazards identified within the City of Oakland and maintain comprehensive and up-to-date public records on lead hazards and rehabilitation and remediation efforts.
  5. Prioritize the needs of vulnerable and overburdened tenants, landlords and homeowners.
  6. Bolster local economic resilience.
  7. Increase targeted public education efforts in vulnerable communities.
  8. Ensure meaningful community participation and oversight of lead poisoning prevention efforts.
  9. Generate additional funding to support ongoing lead remediation systems.

Oakland’s equity-based approach—informed by data and a proactive hazard identification and abatement strategy, using funding from the lead paint settlement—is designed to reduce racial disparities in lead poisonings and achieve the goals described in the Equity Impact Analysis: “(to) protect young children from accruing high levels of untreated lead poisoning, which can cause brain damage, anti-social, erratic, or violent behavior, and limit their future economic livelihood. Lowering exposure to lead paint hazards will increase students’ academic performance, supporting higher attendance, graduation rates, and success later in life….addressing multiple root causes of insecurity and significantly increasing public safety for all Oakland residents.”

Link to presentation made to Joint Powers Authority: Abating Lead Paint Hazards Equitably in Oakland & Alameda County

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Media Contact

Portrait of Citywide Communications Director, Karen Boyd

Karen Boyd
Citywide Communications Director
City Administrator's Office
kboyd@oaklandca.gov
510-238-6365

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