PPS continues to deal with lead issues as new school year approa - KPTV - FOX 12

PPS continues to deal with lead issues as new school year approaches

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Students at Portland Public Schools returning to class will be greeted by water coolers and warning signs, as the district continues to grapple with the problem of lead in the water of its facilities.

John Burnham, the district's Interim Senior Director of Environmental Health and Safety, spent the summer looking at test results and coming up with possible solutions.

"It's a pretty significant problem," said Burnham, who came out of retirement to tackle the issue. "It really should have been addressed before I ever arrived."

An outside investigation requested by the school board found systemic problems and inconsistencies with the district's handling of lead concerns, which first came to light after testing revealed elevated levels in 2001.

"How could this last so long and go so long before it's resolved and it comes to people's attention that they're actually doing something about it," said Russ Peterson, a Grant High School Teacher.

Peterson said he first found out about the lead problems when news broke in late May that the district found elevated levels of lead in drinking fountains at Creston and Rose City Park Elementary Schools.

"I'm frustrated. I'm angry," said Peterson. "I get that it's a big district. I get it that there's a lot of moving parts, but caring for our students' health and safety is part of the mandate of a school system."

At Tubman Middle School, which served as a temporary campus for Faubion Elementary last year, five drinking fountains showed levels above the district's safety threshold.

At Jefferson High School, there were more than 20 drinking fountains with elevated lead levels.

Burnham said, overall, roughly 12 percent of the district's 2,000 drinking showed elevated levels of lead.

Fixtures like sinks and faucets had especially high concentrations of lead, some of them several hundred times the levels considered safe.

As a result, Burnham said, most of the district's school cafeterias would not be using water from the tap to start the year.

"We have an interim process to provide bottled water for all food preparation," said Burnham. "We're going to have pre-washed and already prepared to eat produce coming in."

Burnham said a long-term solution hasn't been found yet, but said the cost of replacing fixtures and plumbing district wide will be extensive.

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