Water at Dozens of Portland School Buildings Had Elevated Lead Levels

By Corey Mitchell — June 02, 2016 2 min read
  • Save to favorites
  • Print

The Portland public schools failed to disclose that the drinking water at dozens of school buildings had elevated lead levels, the Williamette Week reports.

District tests conducted from 2010 to 2012 found that 47 district buildings had lead levels that exceeded national guidelines, according to a database obtained by the newspaper.

After the paper emailed those test results to district leaders, the district shut down drinking fountains at all of its schools for the remainder of the school year. The revelation has sparked outrage in the 46,000-student district and raised questions about accountability.

Superintendent Carole Smith, the district’s chief operating officer, and five school board members told Williamette Week that they were not aware of the test results. The district’s environmental director did not respond to questions from the newspaper.

Portland school board chairman Tom Koehler told Williamette Week that he wants an “outside entity” to review how the district handles lead testing.

Superintendent Smith said she also wants an outside review to identify “lapses in judgment, protocol, and communication,” the newspaper reported. But some district parents were already calling for Smith’s ouster before the latest development. For two months, Smith failed to inform students, staff, and parents that tests conducted in March confirmed high levels of lead in water from sinks and fountains. The Oregonian first reported the test results in late May.

District leaders are now working to coordinate on-site blood lead level screening next month for students at the affected schools, The Oregonian reported.

The elevated lead levels like those found in Portland have “brought new concerns about testing requirements for such contaminants and about whether similar discoveries may emerge elsewhere, particularly in urban districts where buildings tend to be older,” my colleague Denisa Superville wrote in March.

Lead poisoning could have lifelong consequences, especially for young children. Research has tied high levels of lead in blood to learning disabilities, poor classroom performance, impaired growth, and even hearing loss.

The number of districts facing the lead threat continue to emerge. In Chicago, water will be tested at all the city’s public schools after initial tests at an elementary school uncovered elevated levels of the toxic metal in three water fountains.

Related Stories

After Flint, New Scrutiny of Schools’ Drinking Water

Lead Levels Force Shutdown of Newark Water Fountains

Water Contamination Raises Health Concern for Flint Students

A version of this news article first appeared in the District Dossier blog.

Commenting has been disabled on effective Sept. 8. Please visit our FAQ section for more details. To get in touch with us visit our contact page, follow us on social media, or submit a Letter to the Editor.


This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Teaching Webinar
6 Key Trends in Teaching and Learning
As we enter the third school year affected by the pandemic—and a return to the classroom for many—we come better prepared, but questions remain. How will the last year impact teaching and learning this school
Content provided by Instructure
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
School & District Management Webinar
Ensuring Continuity of Learning: How to Prepare for the Next Disruption
Across the country, K-12 schools and districts are, again, considering how to ensure effective continuity of learning in the face of emerging COVID variants, politicized debates, and more. Learn from Alexandria City Public Schools superintendent
Content provided by Class
Teaching Profession Live Online Discussion What Have We Learned From Teachers During the Pandemic?
University of California, Santa Cruz, researcher Lora Bartlett and her colleagues spent months studying how the pandemic affected classroom teachers. We will discuss the takeaways from her research not only for teachers, but also for

EdWeek Top School Jobs

Teacher Jobs
Search over ten thousand teaching jobs nationwide — elementary, middle, high school and more.
View Jobs
Principal Jobs
Find hundreds of jobs for principals, assistant principals, and other school leadership roles.
View Jobs
Administrator Jobs
Over a thousand district-level jobs: superintendents, directors, more.
View Jobs
Support Staff Jobs
Search thousands of jobs, from paraprofessionals to counselors and more.
View Jobs

Read Next

Education Schools Get the Brunt of Latest COVID Wave in South Carolina
In the past few weeks, South Carolina has set records for COVID-19 hospitalizations and new cases have approached peak levels of last winter.
4 min read
Two Camden Elementary School students in masks listen as South Carolina Gov. Henry McMaster talks about steps the school is taking to fight COVID-19, Wednesday, Sept. 15, 2021, in Camden, S.C. McMaster has adamantly and repeatedly come out against requiring masks in schools even as the average number of daily COVID-19 cases in the state has risen since early June. (AP Photo/Jeffrey Collins)
Education More States Are Requiring Schools to Teach Native American History and Culture
Advocates say their efforts have gained some momentum with the nation’s reckoning over racial injustice since the killing of George Floyd.
3 min read
A dancer participates in an intertribal dance at Schemitzun on the Mashantucket Pequot Reservation in Mashantucket, Conn., Saturday, Aug. 28, 2021. Connecticut and a handful of other states have recently decided to mandate students be taught about Native American culture and history. (AP Photo/Jessica Hill)
Education Judge's Temporary Order Allows Iowa Schools to Mandate Masks
A federal judge ordered the state to immediately halt enforcement of a law that prevents school boards from ordering masks to be worn.
4 min read
Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds speaks to reporters following a news conference, Thursday, Aug. 19, 2021, in West Des Moines, Iowa. Reynolds lashed out at President Joe Biden Thursday after he ordered his education secretary to explore possible legal action against states that have blocked school mask mandates and other public health measures meant to protect students against COVID-19. Reynolds, a Republican, has signed a bill into law that prohibits school officials from requiring masks, raising concerns as delta variant virus cases climb across the state and schools resume classes soon. (AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall)
Education Hurricane Ida Deals New Blow to Louisiana Schools Struggling to Reopen
The opening of the school year offered teachers a chance to fully assess the pandemic's effects, only to have students forced out again.
8 min read
Six-year-old Mary-Louise Lacobon sits on a fallen tree beside the remnants of her family's home destroyed by Hurricane Ida, in Dulac, La., on Sept. 4, 2021. Louisiana students, who were back in class after a year and a half of COVID-19 disruptions kept many of them at home, are now missing school again after Hurricane Ida. A quarter-million public school students statewide have no school to report to, though top educators are promising a return is, at most, weeks away, not months.
Six-year-old Mary-Louise Lacobon sits on a fallen tree beside the remnants of her family's home destroyed by Hurricane Ida, in Dulac, La., on Sept. 4, 2021.
John Locher/AP