State orders Portland to lower lead levels

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PORTLAND — The Oregon Health Authority has ordered Portland to reduce lead levels in drinking water on the heels of new testing that found too much lead at some taps.

In a Nov. 4 letter to the Portland Water Bureau, Oregon public health director Lillian Shirley said the city must submit a plan for lead reduction by Dec. 2, and identify immediate steps it will take to fix the problem.

To permanently solve the issue, Portland must upgrade its water treatment facilities and infrastructure, Shirley said. She gave the city six years to get it done.

City officials contacted by The Oregonian/OregonLive on Wednesday declined to say what steps they might suggest Dec. 2.

Past studies have shown that Portland could increase pH levels and alkalinity, which would likely reduce the pipe corrosion that causes lead release, particularly in homes with lead-soldered plumbing or brass faucets.

Portland’s lead levels are higher than others nationally because regulators in the 1990s allowed the city to sidestep rules meant to minimize lead and pipe corrosion.