fountain.jpg

Sponsored
The Portland Committee on Community-Engaged Policing (PCCEP) September Full Board Meeting
Join the PCCEP Tue 9/28 for the committee board meeting from 5-8p to discuss Strategic Plan, Codification, Citizen Review Committee and more!

If you're concerned about health hazards in Portland Public Schools, maybe just keep hitting refresh on this webpage and see what pops up next.

Since it became clear last Friday district officials didn't immediately shut off fixtures that turned up high lead levels in March—there was an eight-day lapse, they say—and also didn't immediately communicate the problem to parents, the state's largest school district has found itself in full-blown crisis cleanup mode.

In rapid-fire succession this week, a series of concerning revelations have suggested school leaders have a less-than-adequate handle on the lead that's leached from pipes in old buildings. And now all the sudden the district's revealing radon is a concern.

Here's a rundown of where things stand:

The Oregonian first reported elevated lead readings last week. At the time, concern was limited to Creston School and PPS' Rose City Park campus, where readings on more than a dozen water fixtures had exceeded federal safety levels of 15 parts per billion in March.

As that news made the rounds, Portland Public Schools sent out an e-mail to parents, acknowledging a lapse in how it had handled those results. Most crucially, the district didn't shut off potentially hazardous water fountains for days despite high lead readings.

Lead can alter brain development, and is considered unsafe at any level for children. And in light of the water crisis in Flint, Michigan, and the heightened alert Portland has been on since the story broke about unsettling air quality near Portland glass factories, the news caused an uproar, spurring immediate calls for Superintendent Carole Smith to resign. Smith has said she didn't know about the lead tests or results until shortly before they were released. She and the school board have promised an independent investigation into what occurred.

But the hits kept coming.

Earlier this week, Willamette Week reported that nearly 50 schools had at least one water fixture that had spouted lead levels higher than the US Environmental Protection Agency's safety levels, according to tests conducted from 2010 to 2012. (PPS pointed out in a memo last night that Willamette Week had actually had that data since early 2015, something the paper confirmed to the Oregonian.)

Meanwhile, OPB reported on emails that confirm PPS officials have been aware of lead issues since at least 2012.

As it wrestled with parents' concerns in two special public meetings, the district released two more concerning revelations Wednesday evening. First, PPS said that, while it has records filters or other fixes were put in place in more than 140 fixtures that tested positive for lead, there are five that were operating until last week with no record of remediation.

Screen_Shot_2016-06-02_at_9.26.11_AM.png

"In order to verify that the remediation data in the database is correct, we are currently physically inventorying buildings in the locations that the data indicates had elevated levels of lead," read the memo from PPS Chief Operating Officer Tom Magliano.

Support The Portland Mercury

Then, as if out of the blue, the district released another bit of news last night. In the course of complying with state testing requirements, officials have turned up potentially concerning levels of the hazardous gas radon in 130 rooms, across 26 PPS buildings. The majority of those rooms, 121, had readings above an "initial action level" of 4 picocuries per liter (or pCi/L, which is how radon is measured), but less than 10 pCi/L, according to a memo from PPS Director of Facilities David Hobbs [PDF] PPS says it'll conduct long-term testing and "follow the EPA guidelines for testing and mitigation."

But nine more rooms across six schools (Meek, Beaumont, Whitman, Roseway Heights, Lent and Marysville) had readings that were above the "higher action level" of 10 pCi/L, PPS says. Those readings necessitate a "short-term follow-up test," which ideally should be conducted in the coldest month of the year. PPS says it's conducing the tests right away.

EPA literature suggests people "fix your home if your radon level is 4 picocuries per liter (pCi/L) or higher," and notes "Radon levels less than 4 pCi/L still pose a risk, and in many cases may be reduced." The gas is produced by a natural radioactive breakdown of uranium, and causes lung cancer.

Sponsored
SLAY Film Fest
In person at the Clinton St. Theater 10/29 & 10/30