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A $200,000 project at six schools could reduce lead in water for drinking, food preparation.

PMG FILE PHOTO - Portland schools shut off drinking fountains and offered bottled water three years ago because of a high amount of lead found in school water systems.Portland Public Schools will try new water filtration systems at six schools in hopes of reducing lead levels in water as possible tighter restrictions loom.

The pilot project "has the potential to substantially reduce lead levels well below the 15 parts per billion that is the state rule," said John Burnham, the district's temporary senior director of health and safety.

The schools — Arleta K-8, Duniway Elementary School, Jefferson High School, Llewellyn Elementary School, Rigler Elementary School and Robert Gray Middle School — still have at least 15 drinking water fixtures with elevated levels of lead. Each of the six schools would get four water stations with new filters.

About 500 drinking water fixtures in the district still have excessive levels of lead and have been turned off. Burnham told the Feb. 19 Portland Public Schools board meeting that some states are considering reductions in permissible lead levels in water for drinking fountains and for food preparation water in schools. The American Academy of Pediatrics, for example, recommends lead concentrations of one part per billion for water fountains in schools.

Lead poisoning can cause health problems, especially in children. Lead poisoning can affect both mental and physical development in children. It can cause developmental delays and difficulty learning and a range of physical symptoms. Lead-based paint and contaminated dust in older buildings is the most common sources of lead poisoning in kids.

The construction on the pilot project at the six schools is expected to start in May. Burnham said he hopes the new filters will not only reduce lead levels significantly, but also save the district money. The project will cost about $200,000 and funds will come from bonds approved by voters in May 2017.

During the past few years, the district faced strong criticism for perceptions that it was not transparent with the public about lead found in school water fountains and kitchen spigots, and that it did not aggressively address the problems.

An alternative to the new filter systems would be for PPS to replace plumbing in most of its buildings, which would be expensive and possibly not effective. Another option is to put new pipes on the outside of the walls of some schools, also an expensive proposition, Burnham told board members.

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