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News Release: Strange Odor Reported in Drinking Water in Section of NE Portland; Water Bureau Responding

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Strange Odor Reported in Drinking Water in Section of NE Portland; Water Bureau Responding

The Portland Water Bureau is investigating customer reports on Tuesday night of an odor in the drinking water in an area of northeast Portland, with a boundary roughly from NE 117th Avenue to NE 127th Avenue, between NE Holladay to NE Gilsan streets. Customers reported smells like petroleum and mothballs.

The Water Bureau immediately dispatched crews to collect test samples and began to flush area water mains from fire hydrants. Crews confirmed the smell and flushed the water system until the odor was gone. The Water Bureau will continue to collect and analyze samples as well as seek to determine the source of the odor.

The Portland Water Bureau alerts customers not to drink the water if it has an odor.

The Portland Water Bureau believes the flushing has removed whatever odor source was exposed to the water system. However, residential and commercials customers are asked to contact the Water Bureau's Water Line at 503-823-7525 if they smell an odor in their water.


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News Release -December 17, 2010

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Source of odor identified

The Portland Water Bureau believes that it has identified the source of the odor observed in an area of northeast Portland's drinking water. The source has been closed off and this water will no longer enter the water distribution system.

On Thursday, December 16, Portland Water Bureau crews investigating the source of an odor in the water reported on Tuesday, December 14, discovered stagnant water in a 1,000-foot section of pipe. This pipe contained discolored water that smelled strongly of naphthalene, the pungent primary ingredient found in mothballs. Crews collected water samples for laboratory analysis, and that section of the pipe was completely isolated from the distribution system.

Preliminary laboratory test results have confirmed the presence of naphthalene in the stagnant water. This chemical was also previously detected in water samples collected in the area of the odor complaints. The concentrations present were far below levels that constitute a health hazard.

Naphthalene is derived from coal tar, a material that was once used as a standard coating for the lining of water mains installed across the United States until the early 1970s. The coating is safe under normal water conditions.  The Portland Water Bureau reports that there is no way to determine how long the volume of water was in contact with the coal tar liner inside the section of 14-inch diameter steel pipe.

An open valve provided the stagnant water with an entry point into a connecting 12-inch diameter water main allowing the trapped water to diffuse into the distribution system. The affected area was roughly from NE 117th to NE 127th avenues, between NE Holladay and NE Glisan streets. 

As part of the investigation into the source of the incident, Portland Water Bureau investigators were able to rule out area businesses that used naphthalene as the source of the problem, as earlier had been suspected.

On Monday, December 20, a crew from the Portland Water Bureau will flush and chlorinate the isolated section of pipeline. This flushed water will not enter the potable water system. Sampling and testing will be conducted prior to putting the pipeline back in service. This process will take about two days to complete. In the meantime, monitoring will continue in the affected neighborhood area.

The Portland Water Bureau operates and maintains more than 2,000 miles of water pipes beneath the city's streets. More than 12,000 water samples are taken each year at testing stations around Portland.

Water House

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Invitation to the Community to Attend
Opening of the Water House

The Portland Water Bureau, along with project partners and sponsors, welcome community members to the opening celebration of the Water House – a sustainable demonstration house in the Russell neighborhood of Portland.

What:   Water House Community Opening

            Free. Light refreshments served.

When:   Sunday, January 16th Noon to 4 p.m.

Where:  1616 NE 140th Ave (just north of Halsey)

Who:     Community members and green building enthusiasts

The Water House showcases water efficient practices through innovative local green building partnerships. The Water House is Earth Advantage Platinum and ENERGY STAR certified, will be the first WaterSense certified residential house in Oregon. The demonstration house will have scheduled events throughout the yearlong showcase, please check the online calendar for future events.

Project partners have been instrumental in creating this unique demonstration house include Earth Advantage Institute, Energy Trust of Oregon, Home Builders Association of Metropolitan Portland, Metro, PGE and Alan Mascord Design Associates.

The Water House project is made possible by the generous contributions of over 30 local green companies, project sponsors include: Pratt and Larson, Fisher & Paykel, Kohler, Neil Kelly Cabinets, Sapa Profiles, Inc., Daikin Mini Split Heat Pumps, Sun Glow Inc. Western Spray Foam, Basco, Cascade Radon, General Pacific, Convectair, James Hardie Building Products Inc., Malarkey Roofing, Ecoasis, McGee Salvage, Life Breath HRV, Comfort Solutions, Atrium Companies, Cascade Lighting, Craft and Design, Eco Haus, Evolution Paving Resources, Gary’s Vacuflo, InFuez, Inc., Rheem, Marathon Water Heaters, Medallion Industries, MetroPaint, Overhead Door, Philips Lightoiler, LM Construction, Hobbs & Hopkins, The Joinery, Perch Furniture, Portland Nursery and Sloan Valve Company. Contributions of products and labor total over $160,000, thank you sponsors! Landscape design by MIG, interior design by Rivoli Designs.

For more information, visit:

Hexavalent Chromium in Portland?s Drinking Water

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Hexavalent Chromium in Portland’s Drinking Water 

In response to a report by the national Environmental Working Group on possible hexavalent chromium (chromium-6) contamination in water, the Portland Water Bureau wants to reassure customers that our water is safe to drink.

Portland has a long history of protection for both of its drinking water sources - the Bull Run watershed and the Columbia South Shore Well Field. These measures protect Portland’s drinking water from industrial contaminants such as hexavalent chromium. The Water Bureau monitors for total chromium far more often than is required, and in the majority of all samples, chromium is not detected.

Hexavalent chromium is not a regulated contaminant and has not been tested separately in Portland’s drinking water. It is, however, a component of total chromium, which is regularly tested. In the past, very short holding times in sampling for hexavalent chromium have precluded its testing (i.e. samples could not be delivered to contract labs within the time required for analysis). Hexavalent chromium is currently being reviewed by the EPA for regulation.

No water utility has the resources to test for the thousands of substances in our environment, many occurring naturally, that are now able to be detected at micro levels by new scientific methods. Therefore we continue to support research by the EPA, the Water Research Foundation, and other government and scientific organizations. The EPA is currently conducting a risk assessment on hexavalent chromium, which will be completed in 2011.

Customers with specific questions are encouraged to call the Water Bureau’s Water Line at (503) 823-7525.

View the detailed monitoring report that the Portland Water Bureau prepares three times a year here: