How the lead crisis poured in

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The lead-pipe crisis at Lincoln is about more than just switching from water fountains to water bottles.  It is about the safety of Portland Public School staff and students.

That is something that a school district, of all organizations, should put first.

Yet a damning report from law firm Stoll Berne released recently revealed not only the administration’s negligence, but a complicity in the lead crisis. It found that PPS has lacked an official method of testing lead levels in drinking water for 15 years.

Despite the EPA’s standard to take action after having 15 parts per billion of lead in the water, one faucet at Grant High School contained 57,600 parts per billion when tested in late May. Many feel little action has been taken after these alarming discoveries.

In addition, the report determined that the senior manager in charge of maintaining clean water received no formal training. He learned “on the job,” it stated. According to Willamette Week, the manager examined a PPS database only to realize that excessive levels of lead were present. He failed to promptly alert any of his supervisors of the database. Meanwhile, students and staff were being exposed to dangerous toxins.

The administration also tried to hide the issue. When the senior manager eventually informed Smith’s hand-picked spokesman of the findings, the spokesman sent Willamette Week an excerpt of the information which excluded how PPS neglected to fix some sinks and fountains after lead tests in 2011 and 2012. The spokesman only submitted parts of the database for review.

The Stoll Berne report additionally revealed incriminating details about Smith. The superintendent apparently supported the senior manager’s boss in spite of his inaction to confront the issue. The report said that he “was more than vaguely aware” of the problems. Smith rated him “a role model” before his inaction was reported.

Smith’s administration knew about the impending dangers of the lead contamination. Now, students are dependent on a million water bottles and wondering if there is lead in their blood.

Now, it’s necessary to cope with this issue and rebuild trust in the administration. Smith is gone and along with her, her approach. In order to make the best of the lead crisis, students and parents should hope for the best from interim superintendent Bob McKean.

McKean currently aims to restore that trust and board members selected him for the very same reason. They expect him to interact with the public on a larger scale than Smith. Hopefully he succeeds.