West Oakland & Berkerley children to be

tested for heavy metals

By Cecily Burt


Residents who live near two industrial factories in West Oakland and West Berkeley may suspect that the air they breathe contains higher than average levels of lead and other heavy metals.

Now a new pilot study sponsored by the nonprofit Global Community Monitor will help them find out.

The study involves testing the blood of children ages 1-5 who live within a mile of Custom Alloy Scrap Sales, or CASS, on Poplar Street in West Oakland, and Pacific Steel Casting on Second Street in West Berkeley. The companies have been targeted by environmental groups for pollution issues that are compounded by their proximity to residential neighborhoods.

CASS, recognizing its incompatibility with the neighborhood, is seeking to relocate to vacant industrial land adjacent to the former Oakland Army Base and the East Bay Municipal Utility District wastewater treatment facility.

Ruth Breech, program director of Global Community Monitor, said a total of 70 children -- 35 children from each city -- will be tested for heavy metals that have been previously detected in air quality samples taken from monitoring stations near the facilities.

"This was prompted by the community," Breech said. "They said, 'OK, it's in the air, so what is in our bodies?' They wanted to know what is their exposure."

Children who live near the CASS metal recycling facility in West Oakland will be tested for lead and cadmium. Children who live near Pacific Steel Casting in West Berkeley will be tested for manganese.

The study will compare the levels of metal found in children who live very close to the plants with the test results of children living on the edge of the study area. The results will also be compared with "normal" levels of exposure to those metals detected from other studies.

"We have residential neighbors really living next to heavy industry, so our question is what is too close? How do we coexist?" Breech said.

"There are homes and schools and people living, working, playing and walking in areas where both of these companies are located," she added. "My hope is that from this study we have some data to move the conversation forward."

The study is a collaboration with the UC San Francisco pediatric environmental health specialty unit and Children's Hospital Oakland. Children who are selected for the study will have their blood drawn at Children's Hospital.

The family must also make their home available for a one-time dust wipe sample that will be studied for the presence of metals.

Air samples will also be taken during the length of the study period.

The participating families will be given the blood test and dust wipe results compared to national averages. Families will also be referred to health agencies to help them interpret the results and find ways to reduce their families' exposure, Breech said.

For more information about the study and how to join, call 510-233-1870 or email program@gcmonitor.org.

There is also an informational meeting from 6:30 to 8 p.m. Wednesday in the conference room of the outpatient building across the street from the main hospital at 744 52nd St. in Oakland.




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