News Feature | December 5, 2016

EPA Speaks Out On Portland's Lead Problems

Dominique 'Peak' Johnson

By Peak Johnson

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For some time now Portland has had problems with lead in its drinking water. As in many cities around the country, lead contamination there can be attributed to problems with aging pipes and a lack of testing.

Students in Portland Public Schools (PPS), the largest school district in Oregon, had been barred from using the schools’ water fountains earlier this spring, according to The Huffington Post.

The district’s fountains were shut off in late May, after PPS announced that high levels of lead had been detected in the drinking water at two of its school buildings.

Bottled water is being used for all drinking and food preparation purposes, The Huffington Post reported. In a May 27 email, PPS Superintendent Carole Smith apologized to families and staff, acknowledging that the district had failed to properly notify them as soon as tests detected elevated levels of lead in March.

The district also did not shut off the water in the faucets or fountains where high lead levels had been detected at that time.

So far, Portland officials have been relatively quiet about steps they will take in order to reduce lead in their drinking water, according to The Oregonian.

Portland has the highest reported lead levels among the nation's largest water providers, and city officials had to produce a plan by Dec. 2 with interim steps for reducing those concentrations, per The Oregonian. Portland's lead levels surpassed federal benchmarks in recent testing, and state regulators are now demanding action after coming under increased scrutiny from the U.S. EPA.

The Portland Water Bureau declined to give any hints to The Oregonian about its overall plan, but the EPA has spoken out.

Federal regulators told Portland that “it should use its existing facilities to increase water pH levels from 8 to 8.2,” according to public records obtained by The Oregonian.

"As we consider our regulatory options, EPA will review with particular interest" Portland's Dec. 2 plan "which we expect will reflect consideration of a full range of measures suitable" for the city's water system, spokeswoman Suzanne Skadowski said in a statement obtained by The Oregonian.

Federal regulators also suggested “flushing water inside the distribution and storage system, with an emphasis on problem areas.” The records showed that the EPA “also suggested a temporary chemical feed at storage tanks and pump stations to stabilize pH and alkalinity.”

To read more about how communities are dealing with lead contaminated water visit Water Online’s Drinking Water Contaminant Removal Solutions Center.

Image credit: "Handprints Near The Water Fountain, September 2006" Joel Frnusic © 2006 used under an Attribution 2.0 Generic license: https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0/