Portland Public Schools said Thursday it’s OK to eat vegetables grown in the dozens of community gardens on school grounds.
That reverses advice from last week telling Portlanders not to eat the school garden produce due to high levels of lead in school water used to irrigate the plants.
PPS based its original advice on a statement from the Oregon Health Authority’s web site. District spokeswoman Courtney Westling says the new guidance comes after discussions with OHA.
“We’re no longer recommending not to eat produce from school gardens,” Westling said. “The caveat of course is that – and we’ve been open about this — is the kitchens faucets are not being used to prepare food, so we still cannot use kitchen sources to wash produce from school gardens.”
Portland Public Schools and the Oregon Health Authority released a joint statement Thursday that said:
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.
Portland Public Schools has found elevated lead in at least some water fixtures in virtually every school building in the district. Students and staff can expect to drink water from dispensers when school resumes next week. Kitchens will focus on preparing foods that don’t require water.
Portland is far from alone in finding lead in school water this summer. Beaverton, Salem-Keizer, Reynolds, Oregon City and North Clackamas are among the other Oregon school districts to find elevated lead in multiple school buildings.