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The City of Portland, Oregon

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Lead Testing of Water in City Facilities

Lead Testing of Water in City Facilities

Recent news about detections of lead in water at local schools and community centers may have you wondering about possible lead in the drinking water in City of Portland owned facilities.


Lead can enter drinking water when it sits in contact with lead in plumbing for several hours or more. Children six and under and pregnant women are most vulnerable to exposure to lead. Buildings and homes built or plumbed between 1970 and 1985 have the highest risk of lead in plumbing. Fixtures installed before 1985 could also contribute to elevated levels of lead. The Water Bureau’s customer sampling program has shown that less than 10% of these high-risk homes have elevated levels of lead. The greatest source of exposure to lead in the Portland region is from lead paint in homes built before 1978.

Multnomah County is the public health agency that tracks lead levels in blood. Most lead investigations in Multnomah County point to a source in the home, most often exposure to old lead paint. From 2013 to 2016, 15,000 blood lead level tests were conducted. Elevated lead levels were found in 188 children in Multnomah County. No cases were traced to lead in drinking water from any source.

To Ensure Safety

Right now there is a great demand for water testing, resulting in the need to prioritize based on greatest risk. On June 8, the Oregon Department of Education and the Oregon Health Authority began recommending that all schools, including preschools and day cares, test for lead over the summer.

Testing in City facilities began this week for the following locations:  Multnomah Arts Center, Fulton Community Center, the Children’s Museum, Mt. Tabor Annex, and CityKids Daycare in the Portland Building.  These locations were selected because of the age of the building and the high number of children served.

The Bureau of Internal Business Services, which manages many City facilities including the Portland Building, City Hall, 1900 Building, etc.; Portland Parks and Recreation; and other property owning/managing bureaus are identifying and prioritizing their buildings based on facilities that serve drinking water primarily to infants, children, or pregnant women.

Results will be available approximately one month after testing. If lead levels are elevated above state recommendations, facilities staff will be asked to flush the elevated taps at the start of each day. When flushing is not possible or the tap primarily serves infants, children, or pregnant women, the tap or fountain should be shut off or signs posted advising people not to drink the water out of that fixture. Further mitigation and follow-up testing will be determined on a case-by-case basis.

A website is being developed to share test results from City facilities and provide general information. Employees will be updated when the website is available.