City Could Broaden Rules for Contractors

Following a report that more than 17% of children 6 and younger in west San Marino tested for elevated levels of lead exposure between 2011 and 2015, the City Council will discuss an ordinance that could require contractors to be certified to detect and remove lead-based paint.
The City Council also plans to appoint an ad hoc committee to develop a lead abatement plan for the city at its 8 a.m. meeting Friday.
The proposal comes a week after Reuters published an investigation into lead exposure in Los Angeles County, which highlighted a census tract in San Marino as having the highest percentage of children exposed to the toxic heavy metal in the entire county.
If enacted, the new ordinance would broaden existing regulations for contractors working in San Marino, who must obtain city business licenses, before they perform renovation, repair or painting work. A contractor would have to show proof of EPA certification to detect and remove lead-based paint from structures in order to obtain a license.
“A lot of the contractors now are certified through their trade,” explained Planning and Building Director Aldo Cervantes, who authored the ordinance under consideration. “The intent is just to require proper documentation to be submitted.”
The ordinance was written to trigger the verification process for a variety of contractor work instead of only when residents apply for building permits for their homes, Cervantes added.
The data from the Reuters article, which is attributed to the L.A. County Department of Public Health, indicates that more than 17% of the city’s children tested west of San Marino Avenue showed elevated levels of lead in their blood system. This is more than three times the percentage of children in Flint, Michigan, which recently has been in the headlines for its lead-contaminated tap water. A separate census tract covering the remainder of San Marino showed that more than 11% of the 170 tested children there had elevated lead levels during those years.
“Almost all of the neighboring cities are in the top 10 in the county,” Mayor Dr. Richard Sun said in an interview this week.
Sun said he was contacted by Reuters, a newswire service agency, about three weeks ago, and was surprised to be shown the data, which the agency reported as having never been previously released. He said he formally requested the data from the Department of Public Health and still awaits the information.
“We want to know a little more about how the data was collected,” Sun said.
The Department of Public Health did not respond to inquiries made by The Outlook this week before press time.
According to an interactive map in Reuters’ story, the census tract 4641 showed that 17.18% of 163 tested children age 6 and younger had elevated levels of lead between 2011 and 2015. The neighboring census tract, 4642, covers the remainder of San Marino and showed that 11.18% of the 170 tested children had elevated lead levels during those years.
Tracts in neighboring cities, including South Pasadena, Arcadia and Temple City, also had substantially higher percentages of lead exposure than most of the county, according to the test data, some reaching double digits. A tract in Monrovia showed 15.57% of its test subjects with high lead exposure.
While awaiting response from the Department of Public Health, Sun said he also is pushing to have California American Water conduct its regular test for lead contamination in the San Marino water system in May instead of June.
The Reuters story speculated a combination of factors — the fact that the majority of San Marino’s homes were built pre-1960 and the importation of contaminated food, medicine and pottery — may be complicit in San Marino’s test results. A nationwide ban on lead-based paint was enacted in 1978, but that doesn’t mean existing paint was removed from buildings.
Given that lead-based paint becomes especially dangerous when pulverized, Sun said a regulation on home improvement or demolition is in order. Under the proposal, a home that contains lead-based paint would be required to have the paint removed by certified parties.
“These things are the things we have the means to do at this time,” Sun said. “We’re taking the necessary action that we need to here.”
Michael Cohn, CEO of Corona-based AAA Lead Consultants, said it is hard to say how much lead abatement costs because there are many varying factors, but an initial evaluation costs about $400 or $500.
Following the lead removal, he notes it costs about another $125 for clearance, depending on how fast clients want sample results after they are sent to the lab. A normal sample turnaround (three to five days) is $20 per sample, next day is $35 and same-day is $50.
Cohn, whose company services all of Southern California, said he was surprised to read the details of the Reuters report, especially the 17% of children tested figure.
“I’m thinking I need to be marketing out there,” he said. “Yes, I was surprised and I think most of the people there who have read that are probably pretty surprised, too. They are older homes, but the thing is, in San Marino, people have taken care of their homes, so it has to be things like friction surface, the raising and lowering of old windows.”
Doing that, Cohn said, can chip or pulverize any lead-based paint on the frames or sills, leading to incidental lead ingestion.
San Marino Unified School District addressed the report in an emailed newsletter on Friday, April 21, saying there is no reason to believe there is lead exposure at any of its facilities and it has always complied with state and federal testing requirements.
“In fact, as part of its continuing safety efforts, the district recently conducted random drinking water sampling for lead contamination at numerous drinking fountains at all of our school sites. All drinking fountains tested were below the action level for the EPA and CDC,” the statement added. “The district is working closely with the City of San Marino and is following up with the Department of Public Health to find out more about this county-wide investigation of lead exposure and will take any additional efforts, if necessary, to continue to provide a safe learning environment for our students.”
For the Reuters report, visit
Mirjam Swanson contributed to this report.

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