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

Related Posts
Filter by
Post Page
Water News Water Conservation Featured Rural Partnerships Agriculture Air Quality Climate Protection OCAP-Page Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Toxic Free Priorities OCAP News People Toxics-Free Environments Policy OEC News/Updates/Events Media/PR/Statements
Sort by

Road-trips, Representatives and Adventures in Eastern Oregon

Summer is road-trip time, and recently, OEC staff Karen Lewotsky (Water Policy and Rural Partnerships Director) and Morgan Gratz-Weiser (Legislative Director) headed southeast across Oregon to Crane, with stops along the way in Tumalo and Prineville. Why Crane? The gathering in Crane was organized by leading legislators and partner organizations Verde, Willamette
September 10, 2021, 8:24 pm


New report elevates water justice in Oregon

A new report from the Oregon Water Futures Project reveals water challenges facing communities across the state, from water shortages, to living with unsafe water, watching sacred ecosystems disappear, and critical information gaps about clean water during emergencies. The report highlights key findings from community
September 2, 2021, 11:10 pm


Strengthening Oregon’s Climate Protection Program

The Oregon Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) is getting closer to finalizing rules for a new Climate Protection Program. Over the past year, DEQ has made a number of positive changes to strengthen the rules; however, a few key policy design features still hang in the
August 31, 2021, 10:07 pm


silhouette of person in tractor working a field

Centering Frontline Voices: Oregon OSHA Enacts Heat & Smoke Rules

In a summer already marked by unprecedented temperatures and a devastating wildfire season, OEC and its partners pressed Oregon Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) to adopt a health-first standard when it comes to protecting vulnerable workers from climate hazards. As part of EO-20-04 (OCAP), Governor Kate Brown directed Oregon OSHA to develop standards in order to protect frontline workers from excessive heat
August 11, 2021, 3:57 pm


Oregon OSHA Enacts Emergency Heat Rules

A Joint Press Release – July 8, 2021 Contacts: Ira Cuello-Martinez, PCUN, (503) 851-5774 Kate Suisman, Northwest Justice Workers Project
July 13, 2021, 6:19 pm


Oregon Climate Action Plan: 2021 Progress Report

March 26, 2021, 12:11 am


Celebrating Year 1 of the Oregon Climate Action Plan

March 10, 2021, 7:51 pm


Statement on Protecting Oregon’s Democratic Process

Today, Oregon Environmental Council sent a strong statement to Oregon’s legislative leadership
January 21, 2021, 10:49 pm


OHA Report: Climate Crisis a Current and Growing Threat to the Health of Oregonians

The Oregon Health Authority (OHA) just released its “Climate and Health in Oregon 2020” report, documenting the public health impacts from climate change across Oregon. The report is the first thorough analysis of the health effects of climate change in Oregon since 2014, and is the first of three OHA deliverables directed under EO 20-04, the Oregon Climate Action Plan. The report findings are grim, confirming what OEC has been saying all along– that climate change is a public he
January 5, 2021, 8:15 pm


Oregon Clean Fuels Program: Building Back Better

December 28, 2020, 9:00 am


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.