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Portland Lead Issue May Reverberate Statewide

A view of the west side of the Oregon State Capitol in Salem.
A view of the west side of the Oregon State Capitol in Salem.

The disclosure of the presence of lead in the drinking water at several public schools in Portland could have statewide implications. But it's not yet clear what the state will do.

Top officials with Portland Public Schools are facing questions from angry parents after reports that lead in drinking water went unreported for years. But of course parents statewide want to know how the safe the water is in their children's school.

Democratic state Sen. Chris Edwards of Eugene chairs the Senate's Environment and Natural Resources Committee. He said there are a lot of questions that need to be answered.

"Are these issues really in existence across the entire state and we just don't know about them? Are other school districts doing the appropriate type of testing but not disclosing results? Or are they doing the testing at all?” Edwards said.

Edwards said he's not sure yet what role, if any, lawmakers will play in untangling the issue.

Oregon Gov. Kate Brown earlier this year asked two state agencies to look into the issue of lead in school drinking water. That came after news of lead-contaminated water in Flint, Michigan.

In a statement, Brown said the Oregon Health Authority and the Oregon Department of Education would "review existing programs and provide an assessment of lead in Oregon schools, including a review of what tools schools and districts have to test, infrastructure issues, and recommendations the agencies have for improving Oregon’s programs to ensure Oregon children have safe drinking water in school."

A spokeswoman for the Oregon Department of Education said the agency hopes to have some initial recommendations by early this summer.

Editor's note: An earlier version of this story used the phrase "task force" to describe the group of state employees working on this issue. A spokeswoman for Gov. Kate Brown says the group is not a task force.

Copyright 2016 Northwest News Network

Chris Lehman graduated from Temple University with a journalism degree in 1997. He landed his first job less than a month later, producing arts stories for Red River Public Radio in Shreveport, Louisiana. Three years later he headed north to DeKalb, Illinois, where he worked as a reporter and announcer for NPR–affiliate WNIJ–FM. In 2006 he headed west to become the Salem Correspondent for the Northwest News Network.