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Reynolds schools report high levels of lead in 256 samples

FILE PHOTO - Any faucet that failed a lead test will be shut off until the problem is fixed and it passes another lead test. Reynolds School District's voluntary initial testing for lead in the water supply found potential problems at 18 of the 20 buildings tested, with one sample at Sweetbriar Elementary School coming in at 140 times the level considered safe.

Of the 606 faucets, drinking fountains and spigots tested in the Reynolds District, 350 passed and 256 had levels of lead higher than federal standards for safety, which is 20 parts per billion. The highest was the 2,790 parts per billion at one source at Sweetbriar. One hundred and four of the samples showed lead levels at 100 parts per billion or more, or five times the safe level, and three samples had over 1,000 parts per billion.

"Reynolds School District is taking proactive steps to address the water quality in all of our facilities," said Linda Florence, superintendent in a statement. "Signage and tagging will provide transparency for the water monitoring and maintenance programs."

High levels of lead in the body can cause neurological and learning problems and children are especially vulnerable. Despite this, there are no requirements to test water in schools in Oregon.

Salish Ponds Elementary had one sample that was 1,110 parts per billion and H.B Lee Middle School had a sample that was 1,520 parts per billion.

Of the schools in the district, Troutdale and Wilkes Elementary schools, Four Corners, Natural Resources Academy East and Walt Morey Middle School had no readings over 100 parts per billion. All the rest of the schools had at least one faucet or fountain that had readings at least five times more than the permissible 20 parts per billion. At Salish Ponds, 24 of the 35 tests showed more than 100 parts per billion.

Reynolds district is formulating plans to remediate the problems. Any fixture that failed its test will be shut off until the problem is fixed and its passes another lead test.

Warning signs will be put up at water sources not intended for drinking — bathroom sinks, showers, spigots in lab classrooms and janitorial closets — and that water will not be retested.

“The fixtures that were never intended for drinking will be labeled as such and the focus will be on water that is ingested,” said Andrea Watson, director of communications for Reynolds School District.

All water used for cooking or drinking will be from fixtures that passed muster or from bottled water.

Any school that does not have enough drinking water sources will get 5-gallon water dispensers and cups or refillable water bottles.

This is only the first round of testing done at Reynolds and was done without running the faucets or fountains. The water from the troublesome sources will be retested.

Reynolds had initially expected the results of the lead testing in June, but did not receive the results until Aug. 10. Complete results can be found on the district's web page at: reynolds.k12.or.us/district/lead-testing-drinking-water. The district is working to inform families by various methods of communication and will translate the messages into the four main languages spoken in the district.

"The district will continue to provide regular updates to parents and staff," Florence said.

The district said it will decommission all porcelain drinking fountains, which are more likely to fail the lead test and harder to repair. “Bubble” fountains in classrooms will either have filtration systems installed or will be decommissioned. Break room sinks will have water filtration systems installed.

The district will post signs at all drinking water sources with the lead test results, the dates the testing was done and a repair plan.

The district already had been replacing water fountains with new water filling stations, which have a traditional fountain and a spigot to fill water bottles. All of these more recently installed water filling stations passed testing. The district has ordered 37 more of the filling stations, but does not know when they will arrive because demand from school districts statewide is so high.

Other local districts have had mixed results with testing water for lead. In June 2016, Gresham-Barlow found 26 faucets and water fountains in 10 schools with potentially elevated levels of lead using a 15 parts per billion measure. Another 10 schools had no problematic results. The district is in the process of retesting water in all its school buildings.

Centennial School District tested in March 2016 and found no elevated levels of lead in any building.

Schools across the metropolitan Portland area are testing water supplies for lead after a tsunami of public outcry in Portland when it was reported that Portland Public Schools had found high levels of lead in water in several schools and did not inform parents or staff or shut down the water sources. The controversy eventually lead to the resignation of Superintendent Carole Smith in July.

Districts are following guidance from the Environmental Protection Agency for testing the water. That protocol calls for testing drinking water quality in a two-step process that starts with sample testing lead accumulation in spigots that have not been flushed.

The districts posted information about the water testing for schools on their web sites.

Lead poisoning can cause brain damage, lower intelligence, behavior and learning problems and hyperactivity, according to the Oregon Health Authority. Except in severe cases, people rarely have noticeable symptoms and testing the blood is the only way to know if there are problems.

Despite the recent concerns over lead in water, exposure to dust from lead paint is the most common way people come in contact with lead, according to the OHA. Lead has also been found in some children's toys or jewelry.

For information about the health effects of lead and how to check for lead in your home, visit the Multnomah County Health Department’s website: www.leadline.org. If you have questions, call the Multnomah County Lead Hotline at 503-988-4000, Monday through Friday, from 8:30 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. or email This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..