News Feature | March 31, 2014

Lead Levels Spike In Portland

Sara Jerome

By Sara Jerome


Utility and government officials in the Portland area are alerting customers of a problem with their drinking water. 

"The Portland Water Bureau is warning residents to be aware of possible elevated lead levels in their water supply," KOIN reported

Infrastructure is the culprit. "In Portland, the biggest source of lead in tap water comes from corrosion in pipes, faucets, and lead solder in plumbing," the Oregonian reported

Corrosion has been on the bureau's radar for a while.

"The Portland Water Bureau has been adding sodium hydroxide to the pipes of the treatment facility at Lusted near Sandy since 1997 to increase the pH of the water and make it less corrosive. The last time the bureau added the compound was in 2005," the Oregonian said. 

Still, it is unclear why lead levels spiked at this particular time. "It's hard to pinpoint one cause," said Scott Bradway, the bureau's water expert, to the Oregonian. "We don't monitor every single parameter so it's hard to say what's changing."

Older homes face a greater risk. “Where lead is found in Portland is in household plumbing. And in particular, it’s found in a small portion of homes; generally those that were built between 1970 and 1985 that have copper pipes and lead solder," Bradway told OPB.

How bad is the current threat? The bureau reported "that recent samples taken at what the agency determines to be high-risk homes found 'an elevated presence for lead,' which amounts to 15 parts per billion. The samples were drawn from providers in the Bull Run service area," the KOIN report said. 

Potential consequences for ratepayers are a major concern. "Lead is a serious health risk, especially for pregnant women and young children. It can damage the brain and kidneys and can interfere with production of red blood cells," the Oregonian reported. 

The EPA says between 10 and 20 percent of possible lead exposure might come from tap water, according to the Oregonian

The Portland Water Bureau advised customers on how to lower their exposure. "Run your water to flush the lead out. If the water has not been used for several hours, run each tap for 30 seconds to 2 minutes or until it becomes colder before drinking or cooking," the Bureau said, according to the Oregonian

Image credit: "Portland Dawn," © 2006 StuSeeger, used under an Attribution-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic license:

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