Bay Area/ Oakland/ Weather & Environment
Published on June 13, 2018
In new study, EPA measuring lead levels in West Oakland soilEPA contractors taking samples on June 5. | Photos: EPA

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has started a thorough testing of lead soil levels in West Oakland, the first study of its kind on the West Coast.

West Oakland, bound by the 980 freeway to the east, the 880 freeway to the west and the 580 freeway to the north, was divided into 200 sampling areas. A random roadside sample will be taken from each area and tested.

Agency contractors started taking samples on June 4. Initial results will be released this fall and will be publicly available.

Scientists divided West Oakland into 200 sampling areas.

The Urban Metals Study is a collaboration between the EPA and the state's Department of Toxic Substances Control and is the first time the EPA has done such a study on the West Coast.

While there is known lead contamination throughout Oakland, this pilot study only covers West Oakland, which is polluted by highways and industry as well as older homes with lead-based paint. Other areas could be tested in the future.

As West Oakland is surrounded by freeways, cars and trucks used to blow leaded exhaust into the air before leaded gasoline was prohibited in 1996. Paint chips have fallen into the dirt from houses built before 1978, when lead paint was prohibited.

For decades, residents have lived alongside heavy industry, mainly related to the Port of Oakland, but also recycling centers doing on-site smelting.

Until it closed in 1999, the former Oakland Army Base next to the port was a source of pollution. Adjacent neighborhoods are believed to have high levels of lead despite remediation efforts by the government before it turned over the land to the city. Today, the former base is being developed into a new terminal and logistics center.

Lead exposure in children can cause a variety of adverse health effects, including neurological damage that can lead to learning disabilities, seizures or death.

A 2012 study by the California Department of Health tested children under six years old for elevated lead levels and found that areas of Oakland had some of the highest rates in the country.

The Fruitvale district led the city: 7.57 percent of children were found to have elevated levels of lead in their blood. But West Oakland wasn’t far behind with 7.11 percent.

While the West Oakland study results could lead to new cleanup efforts, the Healthy Homes Department of the Alameda County Community Development Agency provides resources for testing lead exposure and grants for abating contaminated homes.