Take time for peace of mind: test for lead in water

Guest Blog by Bryce Baker


Bryce with his mini-me.

You can read about lead concerns practically anywhere—from local coverage of high lead levels in water at Portland Public Schools, to national headlines of the crisis in Flint, Michigan. When it comes to lead in drinking water, everyone is worried, but parents are particularly concerned, because children are most vulnerable to the detrimental effects of lead exposure. For those who don’t know the risk, the EPA states that when it comes to children, even low levels of lead exposure have been linked to “damage to the central and peripheral nervous system, learning disabilities, shorter stature, impaired hearing, and impaired formation and function of blood cells.” That’s why, when I found out we were expecting our first baby last year, testing for lead in our 1976 home was a high priority for me.

As a family we had taken on a lot that summer: not only was our daughter on the way, but we were in the midst of a home remodel that had us confined to one room, while the rest of the house was a construction zone. So you could say I had a lot on mind during that time, thinking about what we were juggling with the present, and what we were preparing for in our future. But somewhere in the midst of that, I took the time to reach out to the City of Portland to inquire about a lead testing kit.

It was through checking around that I found out about a free service that’s part of the Lead Hazard Reduction Program. You can order a free lead testing kit for your home and have it processed by the Portland Water Bureau Water Quality Laboratory. Their lab is accredited by the State of Oregon. Sound complicated? It really wasn’t. I requested a kit online (you can also request one over the phone by calling 503-988-4000) and two weeks later it appeared in the mail. The test kit came complete with instructions, sample bottles, a postage-paid return envelope to return the sample, and an information card to fill out and return along with the sample.

The instructions were easy to follow. You must refrain from running water for awhile in order to collect a good sample, so in our case I made sure we had glasses of water to drink overnight if we got thirsty, made sure not to run water one night, and took the sample first thing in the morning. I sent the sample in along with the information card, and within two weeks we had our answer. In our case, the results were good. But if the test comes back to show elevated levels of lead in your water, the Water Bureau provides you with steps you can take to avoid possible exposure.

This testing turned out to be especially important for our new family as my wife was not able to breastfeed past two months, so our daughter was formula-fed, something we had not planned on. Formula is prepared using cold water, so with every bottle we fed our baby, we also had the peace of mind that the water she was drinking was safe.

Lead-in-water testing is free and available to all Portland Water Bureau customers. The Portland Water Bureau also works in cooperation with other water utilities in the Bull Run service area to offer this program. You can get free lead testing if you live in any of these areas:

  • Burlington Water District
  • City of Gresham
  • City of Tualatin
  • Lake Grove Water District
  • Palatine Hill Water District
  • Portland Water Bureau
  • Raleigh Water District
  • Rockwood PUD
  • Tualatin Valley Water District
  • Valley View Water District
  • West Slope Water District

If your water provider is not listed, call your provider directly and ask them about lead testing for your water. If you are not sure who your water supplier is, find out here: https://yourwater.oregon.gov

You can also find a list of accredited labs, if you want to pay for your own testing.

If there’s no free test kit and the cost of a private test is too much, you can also get an affordable kit from this nonprofit: https://www.hbbf.org/test-kits-start

It may take a little work to get the information you need, but hey, if I can do it while preparing my life and home for a new member of our family to join us, and while taking care of my pregnant wife, you can too!

Bryce Baker is a new dad and member of Oregon Environmental Council. He is passionate about preserving Oregon’s natural beauty for all families to enjoy — now and for many generations to come. He looks forward to teaching his daughter to love the outdoors through fishing in Oregon’s many beautiful rivers and lakes, the way his dad taught him to.

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