Hazard expert on Portland lead situation: 'This is not the next Flint'

Portland Public Schools officials closed off all fountains on May 27, 2016 (KATU News photo).

PORTLAND, Ore. -- Lead is colorless, odorless and tasteless -- basically undetectable without proper testing. According to the Portland Water Bureau, Portland typically has extremely low levels of lead in water.

Portland Public Schools recently found elevated levels of lead in the water at Creston and Rose City schools, prompting a full shut-off of water fountains district-wide late last week.

Buildings at the highest risk were built between 1970 and 1985 using lead solder in the plumbing.

"Where lead is coming from is household plumbing, from pipes within houses, schools and buildings," Portland's lead Hazard Reduction Manager Scott Bradway said. "When you have older schools that were built in sort of that high risk time range, you tend to end up with schools with more lead in them."

Portland Public Schools officials said they will begin testing water at all schools across the district as soon as school is out for summer. The plan is to also have all water fixed and cleaned by the start of school in the fall.

"Keep in mind, the results you are seeing are standing samples, samples that sat in the pipe over 6 hours so they are not indicative of the levels that you will see throughout the day," Bradway said, adding they can still be a concern no matter what. "This is not the next Flint, we are not experiencing levels that Flint is seeing. They're seeing 10 to 100 times worse than what there is at Portland Public Schools."

If you're concerned about lead in the water at your home, there is a fix that isn't too pricey.

"It's not really a big involved expensive fix where you have to pull out all the plumbing," Bradway said.

It can be as simple as changing fixtures or more likely, adding filters.

"There are filters out there that will reduce about 99.9 percent of lead in the water. It's just a matter of keeping up with those filters," Bradway explained.

Bradway said by not changing those filters regularly, you can defeat their purpose entirely.

If you have any questions about lead poisoning, call the Multnomah County Health Department's lead line at 503-988-4000.