PORTLAND, Ore. -- After two Portland schools tested high for lead in some drinking fountains and sinks, lead issues were revealed at schools and other departments across the metro region.
Read more: Lead found in many Portland schools
The Portland teachers' union president questioned whether safety is a priority at Portland Public Schools after tests revealed high levels of lead in drinking water. Two PPS employees were placed on administrative leave due to the situation.
The district is testing all school buildings for lead this summer. All schools tested so far have high lead levels in some sources.
Meanwhile, schools in Portland suburbs, including Gresham, Beaverton, Vancouver and Hillsboro, tested drinking water for lead -- some for the first time.
Portland Parks and Recreation is also dealing with lead issues. The department said high levels of lead were found at a community center in 2011, 2012 and 2013 but lead filters were not installed until May 31, 2016. The department has never conducted system-wide lead tests. Follow-up tests showed high lead levels remain at the community center.
Students at Portland Public Schools began drinking bottled water May 31 and they will continue to do so through the 2016-17 school year.
Portland's lead issues came to light after parents at Creston and Rose City Park elementary schools requested lead tests in March, following the lead scandal in Flint, Michigan.
Those tests found high amounts of lead in the tap water at the two schools.
Elevated lead levels were found in 14 of the 92 water sources at Creston and at Rose City Park. One test showed 52 parts per billion in the water at Creston, or more than three times the EPA maximum contaminant level of 15 parts per billion.
A document obtained by KGW shows that high levels of lead were found at 47 other Portland Public Schools buildings between 2010 and 2012. The findings were first reported by Willamette Week.
The water at Creston and Rose City Park was first tested by PPS staff in late March. Follow-up tests at Creston were conducted in April.
On May 27, PPS Superintendent Carole Smith announced the drinking water would be shut off district-wide and 1.1 million bottles of water would be brought in for the remainder of the school year. Fred Meyer donated $1,500 worth of water to the district.
Smith said she learned of the test results Wednesday, May 25. That same day, Creston and Rose City Park parents were informed about the results.
Smith said comprehensive lead tests will be conducted this summer and she is forming a Healthy Water Taskforce to oversee the effort.
The testing is expected to cost $450,000, Smith said. Testing at the first 30 schools found lead levels at some schools were so high they are considered toxic waste by the EPA.
The president of the Portland Association of Teachers said Portland educators were not informed about the lead testing and wanted to know why the district didn't notify them sooner.
“I'm not sure if safety is the priority at the district. I think it is now, but it wasn't,” said Gwen Sullivan. “The fact they did these tests and nobody sounded the alarm is a problem.”
Sullivan said she's been receiving calls and emails from concerned teachers, wondering why they weren't informed.
“As soon as they knew anything, we should have been notified, because then we would have been able to talk to staff and families," she said. "That should have happened, at the very least, a few weeks ago, even when the testing was happening. I’m a little shocked that didn't happen earlier.”
A Change.org petition called for Superintendent Carole Smith to step down.
“It's her responsibility,” said Mike Southern, who started the petition. “If you can't have a basic expectation of safety for your kids in schools, everything else doesn't matter.”
Smith announced she will retire at the end of the 2016-17 school year. She said she is not leaving due to the lead issues.
The Multnomah County Health Department said anyone worried about lead exposure should get tested to know if there are elevated levels of the heavy metal in their blood.
Anyone with questions about blood lead level testing can call Multnomah County’s Leadline at 503-988-4000 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.