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County finds little lead poisoning after hundreds of blood tests

TRIBUNE PHOTO: JONATHAN HOUSE - Craig Kelley puts a band aid on his daughter's finger after she was tested for lead poisoning at the Rose City Park Elementary Monday, June 6.Multnomah County health officials say only two children had elevated levels of lead in their blood during two days of testing at county pop-up clinics.

The county’s Health Department screened 519 people for lead poisoning Monday, June 6, and Tuesday, June 7. The two children tested Monday at Rose City Park School showed elevated levels of lead in their blood and were due to have comprehensive blood tests to confirm the findings.

During Tuesday’s clinic at Creston School, no one had elevated levels of lead in their blood, county officials said.

Two of the county’s largest lead screening events were held in response to elevated levels of lead found in water at Portland Public School buildings. Rose City Park and Creston schools were two of the buildings with elevated levels of lead in the water.

Lead is a toxic substance that, even in small amounts, can cause serious health problems for children and adults. Federal health officials say water with more than 15 parts per billion of lead is unsafe to drink. In some cases, tests in PPS buildings found amounts of lead dozens of times higher than that level.

Portland school district officials shut down all the water in every school building last week and have stacked up crates bottled water for students and staff.

“This has been a remarkable joint effort between Portland Public Schools and Multnomah County Health to provide information and results for a worried community,’’ said Joanne Fuller, Health Department director. “As family after family left, you could just see the relief on their moms and dads’ faces.’’

TRIBUNE PHOTO: JONATHAN HOUSE - Bottled water at Creston School sits next to a protester's sign during a meeting with Portland Public School officials.

‘This must change’

The county clinics wrapped up a day before the Oregon Health Authority recommended that all school districts and child care programs test drinking water this summer to reduce student exposure to lead. The recommendation was developed during the past two months after Gov. Kate Brown asked state agencies to help reduce the amount of lead in schools’ water.

Oregon’s Department of Education is working with the Health Authority to implement water testing at schools and facilities during the summer break.

“Children are especially susceptible to lead exposure because their bodies absorb metals at higher rates than adults,” Brown said Wednesday, June 8. “In addition, schools are not included when water systems test for lead as required by the Environmental Protection Agency, meaning that a water system may be deemed to have safe lead levels overall, while water quality at schools remains unknown. This must change.”

“I know superintendents, administrators, educators and school facilities staff across the state are concerned about lead in drinking water,” said Salam Noor, the state’s deputy superintendent of public instruction. “We want to give them the tools and support they need to keep students safe from lead.”

Multnomah County’s Health Department will analyze the data gathered during the two clinics to determine where additional testing will be needed. Anyone with questions or concerns should visit the county’s Leadline, www.leadline.org.