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Portland Water Bureau Warns Of High Lead Levels

Bull Run Reservoir in winter.

Bull Run Reservoir in winter.

Portland Water Bureau

If your drinking water comes from Oregon’s Bull Run watershed, and you live in a home built between 1970 and 1985, the Portland Water Bureau has some bad news for  you.

Your drinking water could have high levels of lead.

The Portland Water Bureau tests the water in the kitchen sinks of 120 high-risk homes twice a year. In the latest round of testing, more than 10 percent of the homes tested had water that exceeded the EPA’s lead standard of 15 parts per billion.

Map of the Bull Run service area (click for larger image).

Map of the Bull Run service area (click for larger image).

City of Portland

The Portland Water Bureau does treat Bull Run drinking water to make it less corrosive by raising the pH of the water. But it takes a less aggressive approach to treatment than many large metro areas and instead focuses on educating the public about the risks of lead in homes, according to Scott Bradway, a water quality manager with the Portland Water Bureau.

“We proposed to the state that instead of building additional treatment facilities, the best benefit for the public and the public health would be to utilize those resources to help fund lead paint hazard reduction throughout the community,” Bradway said.

According to the Portland Water Bureau, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency estimates that 10 to 20 percent of a person’s potential exposure to lead may come from drinking water.

Bull Run Dam

Bull Run Dam

Portland Water Bureau

In response to the elevated test results, water bureaus in the Portland metro area have mailed letters to 25,000 homes where lead in drinking water could be a health concern.

Bradway says a relatively small portion of Portland homes are at risk.

“Where lead is found in Portland is in household plumbing. And in particular, it’s found in a small portion of homes; generally those that were built between 1970 and 1985 that have copper pipes and lead solder. “

Water from the Bull Run serves more than 900,000 residents in the Portland metropolitan region.

Water from the Bull Run serves more than 900,000 residents in the Portland metropolitan region.

Courtesy City of Portland

Bradway says it’s a common misconception that homes with some of the oldest pipes have lead in them. But very old pipes were made of iron.

The Portland Water Bureau has made an effort to notify households with pregnant women and children under six, who are particularly vulnerable to health problems caused by lead.  

The water bureau says there are steps customers can take to reduce their exposure to lead in your water. You can find out more about what steps to take here:

  • Run your 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.
  • Use cold, fresh water for cooking and preparing baby formula. Do not cook with or drink water from the hot water tap; lead dissolves more easily into hot water. 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 for information on performance standards for water filters.
  • Test your child for lead. Ask your physician or call the LeadLine to find out how to have your child tested for lead. A blood lead  level test is the only way to know if your child is being exposed to lead.
  • Test your water for lead. Call the LeadLine at 503-988-4000 to find out how to get a FREE lead-in-water test.
  • Regularly clean your faucet aerator. Particles containing lead from solder or household plumbing can become trapped in your faucet aerator. Regularly cleaning every few months will remove these particles and reduce your exposure to lead.
  • Consider buying low-lead fixtures.  As of January 4, 2014 all pipes, fittings and fixtures are required to contain less than 0.25% lead. When buying new fixtures, consumers should seek out those with the lowest lead content. 

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 503-988-4000, or visit their website at