KRON4 News Investigates: Lead in Bay Area water

(KRON)  KRON4 News is investigating the dangers of lead in the Bay Area’s drinking water.

KRON4’s Charles Clifford has spent weeks talking to experts across California and the Bay Area, so he can tell you how to keep you and your family safe from this hidden poison.

According the Environmental Protection Agency lead can enter drinking water when service pipes that contain lead corrode, especially where the water has high acidity or low mineral content that corrodes pipes and fixtures. The most common problem is with brass or chrome-plated brass faucets and fixtures with lead solder, from which significant amounts of lead can enter into the water, especially hot water. Homes built before 1986 are more likely to have lead pipes, fixtures and solder.

KRON4’s Charles Clifford found out that 94%of homes in San Francisco contain lead in some form.While lead contamination in water is a major problem in places like Flint, Michigan, the greater danger in the Bay Area is exposure from lead paint in older homes.

 An Associated Press analysis of Environmental Protection Agency data found that nearly 1,400 water systems serving 3.6 million Americans exceeded the federal lead standard at least once between January 2013 and September 2015. The affected systems are large and small, public and private, and include 278 systems that are owned and operated by schools and day care centers in 41 states.

While no amount of lead exposure is considered safe, the rule calls for water systems to keep levels below 15 parts per billion.

Water suppliers put yearly reports online, you can also find it yourself by typing your ZIP Code into the EPA’s web site at

The Environmental Protection Agency has a comprehensive website with information about lead in drinking water.


Children age 6 and under and pregnant women — whose bones pass along stored lead to infants — are considered the most vulnerable to lead, which can also damage brains, kidneys and production of red blood cells that supply oxygen.

Here in the Bay Area the children who are most at risk of lead poisoning kids live in older homes in low income areas.

KRON4’s Charles Clifford found a family who is dealing with this problems first hand.

Ismale Akbari, his wife and two young children came to the U.S. from Afghanistan in 2015.  The family now shares a very modest one bedroom apartment in Oakland’s Fruitvale neighborhood.

When the Akbar’s arrived in the Bay Area, their kids were tested for lead exposure and the results came back negative.  A few months later, 2-year-old Mohammad was tested again and his blood lead level had shot up to 71 micro grams per deciliter.  Anything over 5 micro grams is considered a problem.  He was immediately hospitalized.

Ismale had never even heard of lead poisoning “I hadn’t heard anything about lead in my country.  When I come here I understand what is lead.”

Lead poisoning is a serious health hazard that can have lasting impacts on a child’s ability to learn.

Diep Tran is a Public Health Nurse with Alameda County he tells KRON4 News “unfortunately most children we see don’t have symptoms until their blood levels are really high. The symptoms are vague.  The only way you can detect lead poisoning, because you don’t want to wait until they have seizures, is through a blood test.

After Mohammad was admitted to the hospital, a team from the Alameda Healthy Homes Department examined the Akbari’s apartment. They checked the paint, dust, and water inside the home, it still was unclear how the young boy ingested the lead. None of his toys or anything else inside the apartment seemed to be the source. However, Ismale remembered that his son liked to play outside near a wall with peeling paint.

Mohammad spent about two weeks in the hospital receiving treatment. Months later, his blood lead level is dropping but still too high. Fortunately, he’s not showing any signs of long term problems.


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