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East County school districts testing for lead in water system

Concerns about lead discovery in Portland schools prompt precautions in local schools


If you’re worried ...

Concerned about your child’s possible exposure to lead poisoning? Discuss your issues with your doctor and they can test your child’s blood for possible problems. Multnomah Count has multiple lead testing clinics for children under 6 throughout the year. Visit bit.ly/1TKLzsQ for a schedule. To find out more about lead poisoning, call the county’s Leadline at 503-988-4000 or email leadline@multco.us.

With Portland Public Schools in hot water over their handling of elevated levels of lead in school water, some school districts in East Multnomah County are having their water checked too.

Gresham-Barlow and Reynolds school districts are about to test the water available in their schools, and recent tests found the water safe at the schools in the Centennial School District.

“In light of concerns raised in other school districts in Oregon, the Gresham-Barlow School District is voluntarily testing for lead in the drinking water in all of the district’s schools,” said Athena Vadnais, director of communications, in a statement.

In Portland, some are calling for the removal of PPS Superintendent Carole Smith because of recent disclosures that the district tested water at 47 schools in 2010 and 2012 and found elevated lead levels, but did not immediately inform parents or shut off the faucets and drinking fountains.

Smith said one or more administrators could be put on leave during an investigation into why she didn’t know until very recently about the lead test results this spring and the actions taken to replace water fixtures at two schools, Creston and Rose City Park Elementary.

Lead poisoning can cause neurological problems and learning delays in children. It can cause brain damage, lower intelligence, behavior and learning problems and hyperactivity. In severe cases, children can be left with impaired speech and language, slowed growth, kidney and liver damage and hearing damage, according to the Oregon Health Authority.

Except in severe cases, there are rarely noticeable symptoms. People with lead poisoning often look and act healthy or the symptoms can be confused with common ailments such as the flu. Children might seem tired or be hyperactive and have a short attention span. They could be cranky or have a poor appetite, the OHA said. They might have weight loss, sleep problems, constipation or stomach problems.

Despite the concern 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 also has been found in some children’s toys or jewelry.

East Multnomah County school leaders are being proactive. The Gresham-Barlow district is following information and guidance from the Environmental Protection Agency for lead testing and expects to have results by around Friday, June 10. The “results will be communicated with staff and families,” Vadnais said.

The Reynolds district also is “voluntarily testing drinking water for lead in all of our schools,” said Andrea Watson, director of communications, adding that while it’s unclear how long this might take, the district will share the results with families and staff as soon as they are available.

For its part, the city of Gresham issued a statement telling people the water going into homes and buildings is safe.

The city’s “230 miles of pipe deliver safe, convenient water from three protected water sources to more than 100,000 Gresham citizens,” the city said in a statement released Wednesday, June 1.

The city continually monitors water quality to ensure it is safe and clean. In 2015, the city met or exceeded all federal drinking water quality standards, the announcement said.

But that only means the water is safe to the point where it reaches homes, schools and other buildings.

“We do not have lead in the infrastructure that we deliver water through,” said Elizabeth Coffey, Gresham’s communications manager. “Once the water leaves the city pipes ... that is when problems can occur.”

The Centennial School District had its water tested in March and got the results back in April. “All the results were below the EPA standards for lead,” said Carol Fenstermacher, Centennial’s community engagement coordinator.

In addition, each Centennial school has a filtered water fountain that also has a spigot to fill water bottles.

Corbett School District has not tested the water for lead in any of its buildings recently and has no immediate plans to do so.

Superintendent Randy Trani said the district is looking through its records to see when it was last tested.

“We have an environmental quality company come out twice yearly to mostly watch asbestos and lead paint issues,” Trani said in an email. The district will talk with that company about testing but “there are not definite plans at this point,” he said.

Mt. Hood Community College has not had the water tested for lead in about a decade, but no problems were detected at the last testing. The college’s pipes were relined around 1999 or 2000, said Bruce Battle, director of marketing.