Our highest priority at the Portland Water Bureau is the health of the people in our community. As part of our ongoing commitment to protecting your health, we’ll soon break ground on a new facility designed to reduce the amount of lead and other metals that can get into drinking water.
Elevated levels of lead can cause serious health problems, especially for pregnant people and young children. Infants and children who drink water containing lead could experience delays in their physical or mental development. Children could show slight deficits in attention span and learning abilities. Adults who drink this water over many years could develop kidney problems or high blood pressure.
In Portland, the main source of lead in water is the corrosion (wearing away) of household plumbing. When homes and buildings have lead in their plumbing and fixtures, lead can leech into the water. Lead is rarely found in Portland's source waters and we have no known lead service lines in the water system. In addition to drinking water, exposure to lead can also come from lead paint and dust and other household items such as pottery or cosmetics.
How we’re working to protect your health
Since 1997, we’ve been providing corrosion control treatment and working to reduce exposure to lead from all sources. The Water Bureau developed the Lead Hazard Reduction Program in partnership with State and County health officials and community partners to reduce levels of lead at the tap. The program offers a broad approach to lead reduction including corrosion control treatment as required by regulators; free lead-in-water testing for customers; home lead hazard reduction for lead paint; and education, outreach, and testing to address all sources of lead in the community.
This summer, to further limit exposure to lead from drinking water, we’re constructing the Improved Corrosion Control Treatment project. Improved corrosion control treatment will further adjust the chemistry of Portland’s water by raising the alkalinity and pH of the water and make it less corrosive to sources of lead in household plumbing. The Oregon Health Authority and the Environmental Protection Agency agree that this approach is the best way to further reduce the levels of lead in water at the tap. With the new treatment project, water will be treated using two naturally occurring substances—soda ash and carbon dioxide which are commonly used in food and beverage production for the adjustment of acidity and as a stabilizer.
“Since we began the Lead Hazard Reduction Program in 1997, we have learned that there is no safe level of exposure to lead. So, to best protect the health of our children, friends, and neighbors we’re investing in additional treatment to help everyone in the community limit exposure to lead in drinking water. Now that we’ve completed planning, and design we are excited to be moving forward with construction on this important project. It expands upon our proud history of providing great tasting, safe drinking water to Portland.” said Yone Akagi, Water Quality Manager
While the Improved Corrosion Control Treatment project is under construction, we’ll continue the Lead Hazard Reduction Program to reduce exposure to all sources of lead and take interim actions to protect public health from lead in drinking water.
Construction of the new facility will begin in the Summer 2020 and will be completed by April 2022. When the project is online:
- The pH of Portland’s water will gradually increase from 8.2 to a minimum target of 8.6. Water with a higher pH is less acidic, or corrosive. This will result in less lead and other metals leaching from building plumbing into drinking water.
- The alkalinity of Bull Run water will increase to 25-40 mg/L. Alkalinity, or hardness, is the level of minerals in the water. Increased alkalinity improves the stability of the pH, which increases the effectiveness of treatment.
While most customers will not notice a significant change to the taste or feel of our drinking water, some industrial customers may need to make adjustments to their operations, similar to when we blend groundwater with the Bull Run.
This project is one of two projects at Bull Run to make water safe and abundant for generations to come. The second project, the Bull Run Filtration project will remove the microorganism Cryptosporidium and other potential contaminants. The new filtration facility will be constructed and operational by 2027.