In Short

A year after state, tribes receive funds to test for lead in drinking water at schools, childcare facilities

By: - November 29, 2021 8:10 am
A person drinks water from a drinking fountain in Malheur

Oregon will get $19 million to tackle PFAS contamination in drinking water in small and low-income communities. (Malheur Enterprise)

Tribal-run child care facilities and schools in Oregon will be tested for lead in the drinking water under a grant announced by the federal Environmental Protection Agency.

The Northwest Portland Area Indian Health Board will receive $445,000 to test water in at least 90 facilities in Oregon, Washington and Idaho. Testing will begin next spring and run for nine months to a year.

 Celeste Davis, the health board’s environmental public health program director said the money is long overdue. 

Oregon state government received $1.1 million from the EPA for lead testing in school drinking water nearly two years ago. 

“Tribes are often left out,” Davis said. “It’s nice that EPA has dedicated funds for tribes to address these issues.”

The Board is a non-profit, tribal advisory organization that serves 43 federally recognized tribes in Oregon, Washington, and Idaho. Davis said if the testing detects lead, action will depend on the amount found.

The “action level” for lead in drinking water as established by the EPA is 15 parts per billion. At that level, action needs to be taken to bring the concentration of lead down. 

The EPA and the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention say no level of lead is safe to drink. 

Holly Thompson Duffy, an environmental health science manager for the health board, said they’ll tailor recommendations that could include replacing faucets and other infrastructure. The most extreme measure would be transporting clean drinking water to facilities.

If high levels of lead are found, Davis said they will also recommend getting kids screened for lead levels in their blood and then to continue monitoring. She said many kids already have blood-lead levels tested as part of annual physicals for the early childhood education Head Start program. 

A 2017 state law requires testing for lead in drinking water and water used in food preparation at all public schools and licensed childcare facilities. The law didn’t apply to facilities run by tribal governments.

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Alex Baumhardt
Alex Baumhardt

Alex Baumhardt has been a national radio producer focusing on education for American Public Media since 2017. She has reported from the Arctic to the Antarctic for national and international media, and from Minnesota and Oregon for The Washington Post.