Get the lead out of Oregon’s school water
originally posted on August 20, 2016
Lead contamination from one school faucet in the Salem-Keizer School District was worse than in Flint, Michigan — the city whose lead-tainted water launched a national outcry.
Salem-Keizer’s startling finding at Pringle Elementary School illustrates the pervasiveness, and the danger, of lead in water.
“Even low levels of lead in the blood of children can result in behavior and learning problems, lower IQ and hyperactivity, slowed growth, hearing problems [and] anemia,” according to the federal Environmental Protection Agency.
This matters because there is no known “safe” level of lead. The metal, which in recent decades has been banned from many common uses, can accumulate in the body over time, causing cardiovascular, reproductive and other health problems for adults.
That is in contrast to the Portland Public Schools, where the lead-in-water controversy spurred the resignation last month of Superintendent Carole Smith. Questions about lead run so deep that people have been advised not to eat produce grown in Portland’s school gardens because high levels of lead were found in some faucets that might have been used for watering.
In recent years, a significant number of public water systems in Oregon have exceeded the recommended limits for lead. But the even greater concern is the water becoming contaminated from old, lead pipes in schools and other buildings. Until the public health crisis developed in Flint, officials in Oregon and elsewhere were slow to recognize the localized potential for lead contamination.
The Salem-Keizer School District, which so far has found isolated problems with lead or copper contamination in more than a third of its schools, is doing its part. Meanwhile, the state Board of Education last week required districts to publicly disclose the results of contamination tests.
But the Oregon Legislature needs to act. Lawmakers should be researching the best practices of other states, adapting them for Oregon and preparing a thorough, effective lead contamination testing, remediation and regulation program for adoption in the 2017 Legislature.