- Associated Press - Wednesday, June 8, 2016

PORTLAND, Ore. (AP) - Oregon health and education officials said Wednesday they will team up with school districts and licensed child care programs statewide to facilitate testing for lead in school drinking water over the summer.

The plan responds to a directive from Gov. Kate Brown in April and comes on the heels of belated disclosures about lead in the drinking water of some Portland Public Schools.

In March, the district arranged to test for lead at two schools at the request of parents who were concerned about the unfolding public health crisis in Flint, Michigan. Those tests revealed elevated levels of lead in 14 of 92 water sources at the schools, including a handful of drinking fountains, but parents were not told for weeks.

That disclosure has motivated other school districts around the state to test their water for lead, which is a neurotoxin.

The Oregon Department of Education, the Oregon Health Authority and the state’s Early Learning Division will provide technical support and information for the state’s 197 school districts and recommend a list of state-certified labs to test the water.

The plan also calls for those labs to report results to the Oregon Health Authority, which will build a database for public use this fall, said Robb Cowie, an OHA spokesman.

The announcement is a recommendation only, however, and the state can’t require school districts to test.

Currently, districts that have their own water supply are monitored by the state health officials for lead in the water.

But the majority of schools receive water from municipal systems. These schools aren’t monitored for lead in the water beyond the testing done by the municipal network.

That can be a problem because many older schools have pipes that can leach lead into the water at the site.

“There’s growing concerns in the school districts and we just wanted to do what we could to get information out on best practices,” said Amy Wojcicki, spokeswoman for the Oregon Department of Education.

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