PORTLAND, Ore. -- One week after the Oregon Health Authority warned people not to eat produce from Portland Public Schools gardens because of potential lead issues, the district said lead-based paint is more concerning than lead in water.

The school district tested all school buildings this summer and found that 99 percent of Portland public schools had elevated lead levels in some water sources, including many that are used to water school gardens. But lead from paint chips and dust is a much bigger health threat.

PPS and OHA released the following joint statement August 25:

Eating fresh produce from a garden is a healthy choice for people of all ages and their families. Recently, OHA looked at scientific research about the safety of gardening in soil that could contain lead. The amount of lead delivered to soil through water is quite small compared to the amount of lead already present at background levels in soil. Other potential sources, such as lead-based paint chips and dust, represent a much more significant contributor to soil lead concentrations. In general, garden plants do not absorb significant quantities of lead. However, it is important for people to wash vegetables and hands after gardening to reduce possible exposure to lead in soil, which is the major potential source of lead contamination on produce.

Forty school buildings are being stripped of lead paint and that process will continue through the beginning of the school year.

On August 19, PPS first alerted parents and staff to lead issues in gardens. The district sent an email to school family and staff, titled "Update for Week of August 15." About halfway through, the email said:

The district has consulted with the Oregon Health Authority and at this time has received a recommendation that produce from school gardens not be eaten.

At the time, the school district said they thought OHA issued the warning because of elevated lead levels in water.

More than 1,900 students and staff have been screened for elevated lead levels out of about 56,000 people who attend or work at a Portland public school. Fifteen had elevated lead levels above the CDC's action level of 5 micrograms of lead per deciliter of blood.

Read the full email sent August 19:

Dear PPS Families and Staff:

This week, the Portland Public School Board announced that Bob McKean, former Centennial School District Superintendent, will be Interim Superintendent until a permanent superintendent is hired. Learn more about Bob here.

Please see below for this week’s health and safety update.


Earlier this summer, the main office at Lent School and cafeteria at Meek were closed due to elevated levels of radon. Over the summer, PPS made improvements to the building envelope and air circulation such that regular monitoring now shows that the average level has remained well below the 4 pCi/L (picocuries per liter) recommended federal standard. The district has received guidance from our contractor, Cascade Radon, and both rooms are now safe to reopen.

As a reminder, all district buildings will be assessed in compliance with HB 2931, new state legislation mandating radon testing in every public school by January 2021. Broad based testing will continue this fall when the heating season begins, which follows EPA guidelines.

The district will present its plan for district wide monitoring and testing this fall when it is complete and meets approval of the Oregon Health Authority.

Lead Water Testing

The sampling of every cold water outlet in the district has been completed and all results of the initial “A” sampling have been posted individually online. We expect final, detailed reports from TRC for all buildings tested, including a full wrap up analysis, data and corrections to any errors in preliminary reporting. Once those reports are complete we will make them available to all PPS families and staff.

A second “B” sample was also taken and will be used to help identify the source of lead. An independent third party will analyze both samples, and combined with other information, make recommendations for improvement to current system likely including:
a. Replacement of water fixtures
b. Piping replacements
c. Update Protocols and procedures to ensure safe operations of all water fixtures such as flushing.
d. Creation of master water fixture database that tracks related maintenance history and any measurements.

As we have mentioned before, all drinking fountains have been covered or made inoperable, and there will be water dispensers available at every building for the start of school to ensure that all students and staff have safe drinking water. Protocols are being established to ensure that water used to prepare food in kitchens is safe. Pre-washed food will be used initially to accomplish this goal.

Signage will be placed on access doors to all non-fountain water sources (bathrooms, labs, classrooms, etc.) indicating that students and staff should not drink from sinks or any other fixture. Non-drinking uses such as hand-washing is safe.

The district has consulted with the Oregon Health Authority and at this time has received a recommendation that produce from school gardens not be eaten.

Lead Paint

We have hired four certified lead paint contractors to abate or encapsulate a large number of critical district needs. Our goal is to get as much lead paint remediation accomplished before school starts, focusing on schools with K-2 populations.

We are focusing at this time on issues at 40 schools and will complete much of this work by the start of school: Ainsworth, Applegate, Beach, Chapman, Sunnyside, Lent, Astor, Duniway, Capitol Hill, Alameda, Creston, Arleta, Lewis, Skyline, Youngson, Chief Joseph, Boise Eliot, Bridger, Rigler, Beverly Cleary Fernwood, Abernethy, Buckman School, Richmond, Creative Science, Rose City Park, Cesar Chavez, Woodlawn, Sitton, Vernon, MLC, James John, Hayhurst, Lee, Vestal, Llewellyn, Woodstock, Markham, Marysville, and Irvington.

Depending on the location, work will be happening inside the building, on the exterior of the building or both. The projects involve scraping loose paint, sealing and covering with a layer of non-lead based paint. Our contractors all have extensive experience with this type of work and will be following required protocols for working around lead paint, including use of plastic to catch loose chips and worker protections, such as Tyvek bunny suits and respirators.

A comprehensive plan for the district is being developed over the next several weeks and it will be shared upon its completion. We will also be contracting with an independent third party in the near future to help us evaluate our current program and make recommendations for improvement.

Lead Blood Screenings

Portland Public Schools contracted with Kadalyst Health Partners to provide lead screenings for students and staff district wide. Thirteen screenings have taken place so far (July 16, 17, 23, 24, 30 & 31, August 6, 7, 11, 12, 13, 14 & 18). Additional screening clinics are scheduled for August 19, 25 & 26 from 4:30 to 8:30pm and the next two weekends: August 20 & 21 and August 27 & 28 from 8:00 to 4:30pm at the Blanchard Education Service Center (BESC). August 28 will be the last on-site screening session offered.

The screenings are free of charge to all staff and students. Please go to pps.kadalyst.com to sign up or call 503-916-3122.

We have received results from the following screening dates: July 16, 17, 23, 24, 30 & 31 and August 6, 7, 11, 12, 13 & 14.

Of the 1,453 individuals screened, 8 children and 6 adults received elevated capillary screening results at or above the current CDC public health action level of 5 micrograms of lead per deciliter of blood for children or 10 micrograms of lead per deciliter of blood for adults.

In compliance with best practices, those with initial reports of elevated levels were advised to consult with their primary care physician for a confirmatory blood test and further analysis and diagnosis. Confirmed elevated blood lead levels in children are subject to case management and environmental investigation by Multnomah County Environmental Health Services. Confirmed adult cases are handled by the Oregon Health Authority and/or Oregon OSHA depending on results.

In addition to the on-site screening clinics, PPS also contracted with ZRT Labs to provide home test kits for those unable to attend the clinics. The details of those tests, so far, are below:

• 1,187 home kits were distributed
• 441 were processed
• 1 was at or above the CDC public health action levels.

In compliance with state rules and regulations both Kadalyst and ZRT will report all test results to the Oregon Health Authority (OHA).

We will share official results from the additional screenings in a future update.

For more information on environmental health and safety initiatives go to: www.pps.net/healthyschools

As always if you have any questions please contact us directly.


PPS Communications