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Elevated Lead Levels in Some Homes Underscore Need for the New Corrosion Control Facility Coming in Spring 2022

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Graphic depicting natural area. Text reads The Portland Water Bureau has detected elevated lead-in-water levels at some homes in Portland. The results are not representative of the entire water system. The results come from homes known to have plumbing with lead solder, making them higher-risk for lead in water. Lead is most commonly found in home plumbing in homes built between 1970-1985

The Portland Water Bureau received results from its twice-a-year testing for lead in water at homes known to have lead solder in their plumbing. The test results of 21 parts per billion (ppb), are above the EPA action level of 15 ppb. When results are above the action level, the Portland Water Bureau (PWB) is required to notify the public and implement corrective actions.  

“Protecting the health of my community is a responsibility I take seriously. These results are a warning light that requires us to investigate and take action. Fortunately, we’ve been proactively investing in our system to reduce lead at taps for decades,” said Portland Water Bureau Director Gabriel Solmer. “By April 2022, we will have our strongest tool yet to make drinking water safer for everyone, regardless of the plumbing inside their home, school and building: our Improved Corrosion Control Treatment Facility.” 

There are no safe levels of lead exposure. Fortunately, there are very few sources of lead in Portland’s drinking water system. In Portland, lead in water primarily comes from home plumbing such as faucets or lead-based solder. Portland’s water is naturally corrosive, and lead in plumbing can be released when it is in contact with water. The bureau treats Bull Run drinking water to make it less corrosive by raising the pH of the water. 

The Portland Water Bureau most recently exceeded the action level for lead in the fall of 2017, when the lead-in-water results were 17 ppb. Since then, the bureau has gradually raised the pH of our water to 8.2 to make it less corrosive. A Water Quality Corrosion Study was completed in April 2017 to determine the main causes of lead corrosion in Portland’s water system. This was the basis for the Improved Corrosion Control facility, which will be online in the spring of 2022 which will adjust the alkalinity and further raise the pH to make Portland’s water less corrosive to lead and other metals. 

Learn more about this project at portland.gov/water/bullruntreatment/corrosion-control

About the Results

Twice a year, Portland and seven regional drinking water providers test from a minimum of 100 homes that are required to have plumbing with lead solder to represent the worst-case scenario for lead in water. The EPA action level for lead is exceeded when more than 10 percent of these homes have lead-in-water levels above 15 ppb. In the most recent round of testing, 14 of the 104 homes tested were above the action level.   

Who is affected?

The results are not representative of the entire water system. These results are representative of the homes and buildings most at-risk for lead in water – those built or plumbed between 1970 and 1985. 

The current test results are part of a regional monitoring program that includes the Portland Water Bureau and the following water districts:  

  • Burlington 

  • Lorna 

  • Palatine Hill 

  • Pleasant Home 

  • Raleigh 

  • Valley View 

  • West Slope 

What we’re doing

To further reduce the levels of lead in drinking water, the Portland Water Bureau is making treatment improvements. By April 2022, Portland Water Bureau will bring Improved Corrosion Control Treatment (ICCT) online to make Portland’s water less corrosive to lead and other metals found in home and building plumbing. 

Graphic depicting the cross section of a residential home. Text reads: We test 100+ homes known to have lead solder in plumbing. Lead in water is likely from home plumbing. There are very few sources of lead in water in Portland's drinking water distribution system. Portland water bureau customers can request a free lead-in-water test kit at leadline.org or by calling 503-988-4000

While the Improved Corrosion Control Treatment facility is being constructed, the Water Bureau is taking the following actions to protect public health:  

  • Treating the drinking water to reduce lead and copper. Since 1997, this treatment has reduced lead-in-water levels up to 60 percent. 

  • Offering free lead-in-water testing to all residential customers and childcare providers. 

  •  Increased education and outreach to customers through mailings to multifamily residences and all homes built between 1970-85.  

  • Actively managing drinking water in the distribution system to maintain the effectiveness of our corrosion control treatment.  

  • Proactively partnering with the Oregon Health Authority and Multnomah County Health Department to protect the public from exposure to lead through testing, and  education and outreach.  

What you can do

The Portland Water Bureau, regional water providers and public health partners recommend the following easy steps you can take now to reduce exposure to lead:  

  • Run water to flush the lead out. If the water has not been used for several hours, run each tap for 30 seconds to 2 minutes or until it becomes colder before drinking or cooking. This simple step can reduce lead in water up to 90 percent or more.  

  • Use cold, fresh water for cooking and preparing baby formula. Lead dissolves more easily into hot water than cold water. Do not cook with or drink water from the hot water tap.  Do not use water from the hot water tap to make baby formula. 

  • Do not boil water to remove lead. Boiling water will not reduce lead. 

  • Consider using a filter. Check whether it reduces lead – not all filters do. Be sure to maintain and replace a filter device in accordance with the manufacturer’s instructions to protect water quality. Contact NSF International at 800-NSF-8010 or nsf.org for information on performance standards for water filters. 

  • Test children for lead. Ask a physician or contact the LeadLine at leadline.org or 503-988-4000 to find out how to have your child tested for lead. A blood lead level test is the only way to know if a child is being exposed to lead. 

  • Test your water for lead. Call the LeadLine at leadline.org or 503-988-4000 to find out how to get a FREE lead-in-water test. 

  • Regularly clean the faucet aerator. Particles containing lead from solder or household plumbing can become trapped in faucet aerators. Regularly cleaning every few months will remove these particles and reduce the exposure to lead.  

  • Consider buying low-lead fixtures. As of 2014, all pipes, fittings and fixtures are required to contain less than 0.25 percent lead. When buying new fixtures, consumers should seek out those with the lowest lead content. 

  • Know the other sources of lead exposure in our community. In Portland, the most common sources of lead exposure are lead-based paint, household dust, soil, and plumbing materials. Lead is also found in other household objects such as toys, cosmetics, and pottery.  

To get your water tested for lead or for more information on reducing lead exposure around your home or building and the health effects of lead, contact the LeadLine at leadline.org or 503-988-4000. 

About the Portland Water Bureau

The Portland Water Bureau serves water to almost a million people in the Portland area. Portland’s water system includes two great water sources, monitors our system every day and collects 240 samples per month. 

Portland is installing Improved Corrosion Control Treatment by April 2022 to make Portland’s water less corrosive to lead and other metals found in home and building plumbing in Portland. The Water Bureau is committed to serving excellent water every minute of every day.