Are Oregon’s schoolchildren drinking lead-laden water?

NOTE: Please see our updated Q&A to learn answers to common questions about the issue here.

Anyone who interacts with a young child can see how quickly they learn. Kids absorb everything around them. But if there is the toxic heavy metal lead in their drinking water, what does that mean for their future? What does it mean for Oregon?

As of March 2016, lead has been found in the drinking water of nearly a dozen Oregon Schools, some with levels up to twelve times the maximum amount allowed by current regulations (15 ppb). Just a couple days ago, lead was discovered in the drinking fountains at Beaverton Middle School. We know lead is harmful to children’s development–to their very ability to learn–yet Oregon law doesn’t require schools to test drinking water for lead contamination.

Lead is a persistent toxic metal that occurs naturally, but has also in the past been added to gasoline, house paint, plumbing fixtures and other products. In the case of the schools, lead is likely found in the solder joining water pipes or in plumbing fixtures. That lead can leach into water as it sits in the pipes–especially if that water is hot–and then travel through pipes towards classrooms or drinking fountains.

Did your kid’s school end up on the list?

Exposure to lead creates health risks in both children and adults, but young children are more vulnerable to low levels of exposure. The U.S. EPA tells us that there is no safe level of lead; even low levels of lead in a child’s bloodstream have been linked to nervous system damage, learning disabilities and more. Lead can also accumulate in the body over time.

Here at OEC, we’re reaching out to members of Congress in order to secure funding for regular testing of drinking water in schools. As leading advocates for toxic-free environments and clean water, our lawmakers look to us to keep them informed. This is a critical public health issue–each of Oregon’s children deserves the chance to fulfill their full potential.

As a parent, you can take steps to make sure the pipes in your home aren’t leaching lead into your drinking water. Call your water provider and ask them about lead testing, or get a free testing kit from


Girl drinking on water fountain outdoor close up

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1 Reply to "Are Oregon's schoolchildren drinking lead-laden water?"

  • Ray Kinney
    June 30, 2019 (2:36 pm)

    The state agencies are never going to respond appropriately for public health, because they are carefully regulated by the state legislators. The legislature sets the tone and the parameters that it demands that the agencies follow or suffer the consequences of punitive departmental cuts in funding. Agencies, staffed with the best intentioned people, want to do their mandated jobs for public health and environmental health assessment. However, they are prevented from doing essential sampling and assessment of pollution contaminants because the legislators refuse to fund any more scientific evaluation that might have any possible chance of discovering any new problems needing corrective action. The system is broken by the legislature. The legislature erroneously sees pointedly-investigative sampling and scientific assessment for environmental status and trends of contaminant pollution as being inherently politically and fiscally subversive. ODEQ and the Health Authority cannot do their mandated jobs under these conditions. This paradigm has long stymied the state responsibility to the public for SAVING money. If we use science to evaluate accurately the risks to public and wildlife we will SAVE far more money by noticing problems before having to go on paying over and over for them off into the future, which adds up to far more costs than the monitoring would have cost. We end up paying dearly with our declined health and declining wildlife such as salmon. Ultimately, each voter has the responsibility to hire legislators that have a much better education, and can see that we can SAVE vast sums of money by understanding how toxic pollution costs us dearly. Vote for people that can comprehend this great need for the State of Oregon.

    This is symptomatic of the culture of ‘don’t look, don’t tell’ anti-investigatory approaches to public health on the community and state levels… by the legislators, who are the regulators of the regulatory agencies responsible for water quality assessment. The legislator records need careful examination of how they have built up this lack of proper oversight. By controlling the purse-strings to restrict the agencies from any investigations that could be likely to show any new problems needing to be addressed, they had built irresponsible state oversight. This huge problem is complicated by the federal agencies also being similarly dysfunctional through devolution of their abilities by congressional irresponsibility. Corporate lobby of politicians has reached a malevolent state of affairs for creating a lack of toxic contaminant assessment, and public health risks go unrecognized and uncorrected until we must spend vast sums of money trying to correct the damage seen in Flint and Portland Oregon. Legislators have built the culture of lack of oversight.

    • Exactly what is desperately needed to be able to move into a more sane water quality accountability envisioned in the Clean Water Act, and the Clean Drinking Water Act. The INTENT of these acts is crucial for our future. The intent has not been honored. Legislative stone-walling has corrupted the intent of these acts. Look at the magnitude of the costs of just the Flint public health crisis, and begin to grasp the fiscal irresponsibility across the land, from similar hidden water quality degradation scenarios. Accurate water quality sampling, analysis, assessment, and informing of the public health providing system is essential. State and federal agency oversight has become compromised by legislative misconceptions and obstructions to favor political lobbies. Toxic contaminant pollution assessment and mitigation protections are not effective without the integrity of science guiding the process. The breakdown of this integrity, allows shoddy work to misinform the public health system across the nation. Too often, scientists, engineers, and other professional people will not speak up about failures they see, or opportunities for improvement because of the legislative bias to put the industry lobby biases ahead of public health. We need to honor those professionals that are aware that water quality assessment is essential and primary, and that a politic that disregards that essential primacy, in favor of false ‘profit’, is irresponsible and untenable for a more sane future.

    I comment as a private water quality advocate, not as a board member of any of the boards of directors that I may sit on.