Published: January 9, 2020
Updated: January 13, 2020
Heya San Francisco!
My girlfriend in San Francisco just called me with this question, and I get this exact question often enough that I wanted to write this post — so I don’t have to dig for the city’s resource information (which is down towards the bottom of the post) in the San Francisco City website every time someone asks!
If you are not reading this on January 14, 2020, please note the published date and updated date on this post (above) – so you can know how current the contact information (for the city’s Lead hazard remediation program and who to call for related complaints) below is. The updated date will be the date as of which this information is current (as things change, and people lose their jobs, move on, etc.)
NOTE: The most expensive homes in San Francisco (the big old victorians) tend to have the most significant Lead hazards – so just because a home is expensive (fancy/beautiful + in a good neighborhood) doesn’t mean it is a safe place for children.
STEP ONE: Call the Health Department’s Lead Poisoning Prevention Program. BUT before you call…
FIRST: Take photos and videos of the work in progress:
- BEFORE YOU TAKE PHOTOS….Make sure your child / children are in a safe place — at a safe distance removed, where they cannot be impacted by the work in progress (get them in your car (+windows rolled up), ready to go perhaps?) and then quickly do the following:
- Take photos of the contractor’s truck or van
- Make sure to include in the photo: any company name or logo information (from their vehicle or company sign on or in front of the property – or from a worker’s company uniform or shirt – with close-up photo)
- Take photos of the workers (this can be intimidating, but it’s really important to establish evidence of who was responsible for actually performing the action, rather than relying on after-the-fact accounts — which often tend to contain errors, denials, or false details)
- Take a few different short videos of the work progress – make sure (if possible) to capture the audio (and check that you’re recording sounds someone will be able to actually hear — any sounds the of scraping, sanding, etc.) — but stay a safe distance away if at all possible (and again – remember to remove your kids from the vicinity of the work site – and wind-borne dust – first!)
- If there is more than one workman try to get photos with all of the workmen (or at least with multiple workmen) in the photo – which proves the homeowner has hired a contractor and/or one or more paid workers most likely — which also makes any violation an OSHA violation.
- Try to get photos of their faces (and any clothes bearing company names and/or logos, if they’re wearing these) — again from a safe distance preferably – to aide in identifying/confirming who is committing (and/or supervising) the suspected violation.
This is what you should say to the representative of the San Francisco Lead Poisoning Prevention Program when you talk to them (“talking points”):
- You are calling to report an EPA RRP Lead paint violation currently in progress.
- Emphasize that the violation is happening NOW! Be prepared to tell the person on the phone the following important facts:
- The address of the worksite (or a least the nearest cross streets – and side of street and location within the block)
- Include where you are in relation to this (& how this impacts you if relevant…. like… do you live in the house next door? across the street? how old are your children?)
- that you have photos and/or videos of the violation in progress.
- that there is a young child at risk in the home / neighbor’s home.
- that you would like them to send someone out there immediately to address the problem
- If they are not the right person, ask who should you call to report this violation?
- ask who should you send these photos and videos to? What is their e-mail address?
- ask should you also report this to OSHA? Do they know the best/most current OSHA contact you can call for San Francisco? [For your neighborhood.]
Here’s who to call with the San Francisco Health Department (as of 1/9/2020):
- Name:Haroon Ahmad
- Title: Childhood Lead Poisoning Prevention Program Coordinator
- Phone Number: (415) 252-3956
Or you can try calling
(note warning though!):
- Name: Karen Yu
- Title: Senior Environmental Health Inspector
- Phone Number: (415) 252-3957
- Website for both (in case this page has not been recently updated): https://www.sfdph.org/dph/EH/CEHP/Lead/default.asp
Warning: When Karen Yu was called by a parent in distress in January of 2020, she actually told that parent that she had the capacity to report the parent (the one calling her about the neighbor’s violation) for the separate violation of having paint chips on their property – even though the neighbor (or their contractor) was actively causing this hazard at the time of the call – and obviously responsible for the hazard! I will be following up with my fellow advocates about this to see if it can be addressed, because if that is the case – this policy with the City of San Francisco Department of Public Health actually serves to actively DISCOURAGE parents from calling in Lead paint / EPA RRP violations that may be harming their family – and that is NOT how the system is supposed to work!
Is there more than one person out there working?
Are they obviously hired help or a contractor?
If the department of Health is not immediately responsive and helpful, call OSHA and report it as an OSHA violation – as the workmen are likely being harmed, too. [If there is more than one person working, this definitely applies; if there is a contractor’s truck out front with logo, etc. (or otherwise), this definitely applies.]
If it is only the actual person who owns the house (AND is currently living in the house) THIS DOES NOT APPLY.
Here are a few more tips for what else to do now, today:
- Make sure your windows are all fully closed on the side of the house where this is happening (and perpendicular sides too – really all windows on that side of your house should be fully closed until they can be tested for Lead contamination in the dust from the neighbors.)
- Get out of Dodge — you need to stay away until this is resolved! That might be 2 or 3 days, or it might be a week [it could be longer]; if your home is literally next door to the site of a possible violation — given the close proximity of most San Francisco housing, you simply cannot stay home and hope to protect your kids until this is resolved. The risk of Lead exposure is extremely high.
- You should not return home until you can get the test results from dust wipe samples done in your home to confirm that it is safe — and if it is found to not be safe, then have appropriate cleaning of your home and belongings done if you learn there was any dust intrusion to your home. [This is micro-dust we are talking about; the minuscule amount of Lead in house dust that it takes to poison a child literally cannot be seen with the naked eye. You can read more about how much Lead in house dust it takes to poison a child here on this link. ]
- Tonight, when you get home (to wherever you are staying instead of your house), you should watch the preview screener of my documentary film on YouTube if it is available (today 1/14/2020 it is). It is 92 minutes long. It is quite informative and instructive — there are interviews with families of Lead-poisoned children around the country, and stories and information from top experts in the various fields intersecting with childhood Lead poisoning — but it’s also entertaining [the Who and Tom Waits and others have donated great music; it includes an interview with Noam Chomsky; footage from my presentation with Bernie Sanders in Flint]! The film was designed to help people like you – exactly in this moment – navigate and better understand this information so you can more quickly act to protect your family… so your children do not end up with permanent brain damage (like my son has). The film is a crash-course in everything you need to know right now (and everything I might say if we sat together and had a 90-minute one-on-one consultation about this issue): https://youtu.be/eRKlaC2EjL0
As always, please let me know if you have any questions – & please keep those babies safe!