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Lead in Portland water exceeded federal limits

Portlanders could be at risk for lead poisoning from their drinking water.

The Portland Water Bureau last week found that lead levels at high-risk homes in Portland exceeded federal limits.

The city tested water from a sampling of 134 homes that it deems at high risk for lead exposure because they contain pipes and faucets manufactured at a time when fixtures could contain significant amounts of lead.

Of the homes tested, more than 13 percent exceeded the state limit of 15 parts per billion. Federal rules require the city to notify the public of lead risks any time more than 10 percent of water samples are that tainted.

If ingested, lead can harm children’s development, cause miscarriages and build up in people’s blood, brain and bones. No amount of lead is considered safe.

"Ideally, all of our customers’ household plumbing fixtures would be lead-free, but they aren’t," Portland Water Bureau Director Michael Stuhr said in a statement. "This is why we are making improvements to our system to further reduce the potential for lead at our customers’ taps."

October’s lead test results marked the third time in five years that Portland exceeded federal limits on lead in water. Its water tests have hovered around that limit for more than 20 years.

Portland’s drinking water comes from the Bull Run watershed and is minimally treated. The bureau does increase the pH level of the water to limit the water’s corrosiveness and reduce its ability to leach lead from pipes.

The Portland City Council in March approved a pilot study to improve corrosion control treatment after a study called for additional treatment. The bureau plans to implement the new treatment method by Spring 2022.

"Between now and 2022, we’re doing work to determine the best type of treatment," Water Bureau spokeswoman Jaymee Cuti said.

In the meantime, water bureau officials recommend customers take steps to reduce their risk of exposure to lead. They include running taps to flush out lead before using the water to drink or cook, using only cold water from the tap, using filters and regularly cleaning aerators.

Officials suggest running the tap for 2 minutes or until the water gets colder, indicating that the water is coming from pipes outside the home.

Use only cold tap water for cooking and baby formula and do not boil water to remove lead. Lead dissolves more easily in hot water.

The bureau recommends asking a doctor to check children for lead and testing your water.

To get a free lead test or inquire about checking a child, call the LeadLine at 503-988-4000 or visit www.leadline.org.

–Jessica Floum

503-221-8306

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