1 confirmed case of lead poisoning after screenings; no link yet to PPS

PORTLAND, Ore. – Out of more than 2,500 Portland Public Schools students and staff who were screened for lead in their blood, one adult has a confirmed case over the state’s action level.

That's less than health officials would expect to see in a normal population study, according to Perry Cabot, who runs Multnomah County Health’s leadline

Cabot said initial finger-prick blood tests conducted over the summer showed 13 kids had lead levels in their blood over 5 micrograms per deciliter and four adults had levels over 10 micrograms per deciliter, which are the levels where health officials step in. 

The finger-prick tests can yield false-positives, Cabot said, and false-negatives are very rare. Health officials urged all of the people with elevated tests to get a follow-up venous test from a health-care provider.

So far, the county has received follow-up results from seven kids and all had lead levels below what would trigger the county to step in, provide medical guidance and investigate the source of lead poisoning.

“The majority of what we’re seeing here are clear-cut false positives,” Cabot said.  

The county has not received test results from the other six kids.

One adult out of four who tested high for lead in a finger-prick test had a venous blood test with confirmed lead levels over 10 micrograms per deciliter. The Oregon Health Authority is in charge of handling adult cases.

There is no data yet linking lead poisoning to Portland Public Schools' water. 

PPS initially reported that 14 children and 11 adults had elevated lead levels, but some of those cases were actually below the action level. 

Cabot said there are not many studies to compare the PPS results against, since most lead testing is done on kids from birth to age 5. But those tests often show elevated lead levels in 2 to 3 percent of the population, compared to less than 1 percent at PPS. 

The test results don't mean the lead issues in Portland Public Schools’ water are not significant. Nearly all school buildings had water sources with high levels of lead.

“The water testing in schools does merit concern and it does merit action regardless of whether we have indications of limited or widespread blood lead level elevation,” Cabot said. “It’s an indication of poor infrastructure and needed updates.” 


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