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Oakland Unified School District

Soil Quality in OUSD

Lead in Soil Overview

OUSD is testing for lead in soil at all schools that have in-ground gardens and remediating issues as they are identified.


  • As a first step in the process of installing green space, prior to any demolition or construction, The Trust for Public Land (TPL) tested the soil for any existing contaminants at five sites and found elevated lead levels in two soil samples - one at Ralph Bunche High School and one at Street Academy.
  • Please note, where the soil was collected is considered low risk for exposure to students or staff because the contaminated soil is encapsulated (or covered by asphalt) and thereby preventing exposure risk (verified by OUSD staff members).
  • Efforts to test for and address elevated lead levels, and inform families and staff are ongoing.
  • We are committed to transparency about this testing.

It is our top priority to provide a safe, healthy environment for students and staff. 


The initial soil testing was conducted by, Langan Engineering and Environmental Services, Inc. (Langan) the partner firm hired by TPL. Multiple soil  samples were collected at each site and in each case, one sample came back positive for elevated lead and one registered negative levels. The purpose of Langan’s testing was to characterize material that would potentially be disturbed or exposed during the green schoolyard projects.

The soil sampling and testing is not intended to represent entire school sites.

The overall timeline related to these samples is:

  • 10/10/19 - TPL hosted a phone call with OUSD and Langan to review initial test results. 
  • 10/10 -10/15/19 - Staff assessed testing results and consulted our soil engineering firm to plan next steps.
  • 10/15/19 - OUSD contacted DTSC (California State Department of Toxic Substances Control) to determine path forward
  • 10/19-10/23/19 -Messages shared with OUSD Board, Partners, School Communities, Staff, media and OUSD website. 
  • 10/22/19 - Joint meeting with OUSD and TPL to coordinate action plan.


How can I protect my family from exposure to lead in soil? 

  • Cover bare areas of soil in your yard 
  • When possible, do not let children play on bare soil 
  • Take off shoes before coming into your home 
  • Wet mop floors instead of dry sweeping 
  • Wipe window sills and other surfaces where dust collects with a wet cloth 
  • Wash hands and toys often

Where does lead come from? 

According to a recent article about elevated lead levels (including in Oakland), “large urban cities that were once home to factories, or that have a number of homes and apartments built before 1978, continue to pose a threat to many low-income, minority children, who live in areas where lead in paint and soil has persisted for decades.” New Report Finds Children at a Higher Risk of Lead Exposure in Several California Cities

A note about student and staff safety:
Please note, where the soil was collected is considered low risk for exposure to students or staff because the contaminated soil is encapsulated (or covered by asphalt) and thereby preventing exposure risk (verified by OUSD staff members). In the areas where the soil sample was collected, the ground was filled in with concrete. We are partnering with the Alameda County Healthy Homes Department, and they agree that there is a low risk of exposure because the soil is covered by asphalt and the students at the site are in high school (and not playing in bare soil). The California Department of Public Health recommends covering bare soil with grass, other plants, bark, gravel or concrete. They say exposure can be created when children play in bare soil, eat unwashed veggies, or do not wash their hands.

Mitigation Efforts

Out an abundance of caution and recent experience mitigating lead in some of our fixtures across OUSD, our plan forward is to err on the side of caution and to voluntarily enter into a mitigation plan with the Department of Toxic Substances Control (DTSC).

Initial conversations with DTSC representatives say this is not required, but agree to provide oversight. Our first step is to identify an Environmental Health Consultant who will assist OUSD in preparing a plan to present to DTSC. Additionally, we have begun the process of identifying high-risk areas across OUSD in an effort to conduct testing of in-ground gardens.

About Lead Levels in Soil

Exposure can occur through eating or breathing in lead. According to an Environment Protection Agency (EPA), publication, a soil-lead hazard in bare soil is:

1. 400 parts per million (ppm) in a play area;

2. average of 1,200 ppm from the rest of the yard (i.e., non-play areas) when the average of samples collected is equal to or greater than 1,200 parts per million.

See,  Lead Abatement for Workers, Students, ch. 9