Front Page of the Oregonian Today

May 12, 2017

Lead Lurks in PPS Schools.

By Bethany Barnes

Note: We (Tamara & Leonard Rubin) usually post articles here on my blog without much commentary, but we could not be silent about one point in this article from this weekend’s Oregonian Newspaper. We have written the following in response.  To see the original Oregonian article by Bethany Barnes, click on the photo of the newspaper below our comments.

Our comments below are specifically in response to the following quote (in the above referenced article) – a statement made by Perry Cabot (the person in charge of the Mulntomah County Lead Hazard Control program):

“Is it likely they are going to be exposed? No,” Cabot said. “Is it possible? Yes.”

Below is a screenshot of his quote within the context of the article:


Our Opinion: Perry Cabot is either being – unconscionably – disingenuous (knowingly, cynically  downplaying the obvious dangers and risks) or is seriously misinformed and/or deluded; either explanation renders him unfit for public service in this capacity.

His public comments (on TV and in news articles in our local Portland papers) on the issue over the years (not just in this one article) have often been dismissive and fairly consistently downplay the concerns of the very real risks of lead hazards and the impacts on children.

PERRY – it IS in fact, extremely likely that children are going to be exposed at school.

The special needs classroom that our child was assigned to for the 2016/2017 school year at Hayhurst School (AND the kindergarten through grade 2 special needs classroom next door) had window sill levels that were as high as 20,000 micrograms of lead per square foot.

These were functional windows at child-height along the full length of a counter used by the children to put their books and backpacks.

There is no way that a hazard like that does not represent a HIGH LIKELIHOOD of significant exposure.

Most prominent scientists who are experts on early childhood lead exposure (many of whom I know personally) agree that the current FEDERAL standards (hazard levels) for window sills and troughs (250 and 400 micrograms of lead per square foot, respectively) are levels that are NOT protective of children’s health (let that sink in for a minute)…so window sills with levels of 20,000 (at PPS’ Hayhurst School) DEFINITELY AND CLEARLY present a significant hazard especially as these are original functional lead painted windows at child height! (Windows in question pictured here.) To say or imply otherwise is completely irresponsible.

It is well understood and indisputable that lead dust – due to it’s extreme neurotoxic potency – is hazardous in literally microscopic quantities, and that dust caused from the opening and closing of original lead painted windows is one of the most significant hazards contributing to the exposure of children. Many top scientists and lead researchers in the U.S. assert that lead dust hazards created by functional original lead painted windows are, in fact, responsible for as much as 90% of childhood lead exposure.

I am equally concerned about the lead paint hazards on the hand rails at nearly every Portland public school.  These are the interior and exterior railings in each of the schools and our smallest and most vulnerable* students are the ones who are actually encouraged to hold these railings (with their bare hands) each day as they go up and down the stairs to lunch and lockers and classes (multiple times a day.)

*Note: Contrary to what many who read the EPA and CDC websites might believe, kids don’t magically become immune to being lead poisoned at age 6. “6 years old” is a random cutoff (as an age after which the feds are no longer concerned  for lead exposure) based arbitrarily on the cost of managing federal programs and funds available for interventions, not what is best for kids’ health. Children’s brains are developing and can be significantly impacted from lead exposure through the teen years and even through to age 25.

Given the widespread, confirmed, documented active (chalking, chipping, flaking and airborne) significant lead paint hazards in so many of PPS’ 75-plus-years-old school buildings, Perry’s statement in this Oregonian article is nothing short of crazy/incompetent.

For him to have said “No” is a ridiculous and irresponsibly dismissive understatement.

As I said, this unfortunately represents a consistent pattern of making cavalier statements over the years that sound like those worthy of a typical career politician – or political lackey, rather than a person tasked with ostensibly (scrupulously, rigorously) assessing and protecting our children from lead exposure hazards.

At this point, Perry.Should.Be.Fired. Perry is up there with PPS’s very own Carole Smith and Andy Fridley (each fired for their incompetence in dealing with this issue appropriately) in terms of his dismissive comments that are then either directly or indirectly responsible for children continuing to be exposed to lead hazards in school on a daily basis – and potentially poisoned by lead. I just wonder who among Perry’s supervisors is putting pressure on him to be so “neutral” in his public statements. I have heard from people on the “inside” of the PPS lead conversation that the effort of downplaying the concern is because they “don’t want the public to panic” [Perry has also made this shameful argument personally to me in the past.]

Parents have a right to know the true extent of the hazards. Literally hundreds of mothers I have spoken with have told me they would rather have the full information and make their own choice about whether or not to panic (and choice as to what course of action is best for their child in light of the hazards in their own child’s school.)

We’re adults, stop lying to us and stop putting our kids at risk. It’s not up to you to “protect us” from the knowledge of the true extent of these hazards and the potential impact on our kids.  Perry, your comment should have read: “Is it likely they are going to be exposed? Most definitely!”

It’s neither “sensationalistic“, nor “hysterical“, nor “exaggerated” to acknowledge the true extent of these risks. What we need is genuine systemic “cultural transformation (nothing short of which is what is required to solve these long-standing, pervasive systemic failures) — after all, we (the public) now know that PPS has known about these terribly serious problems for more than a decade (I personally started reporting water and paint hazards to the district in 2007), and that many different officials and facilities management team members  have all repeatedly utterly failed at both transparency in general and public acknowledgement of degree and scope of hazards specifically.

The first step to remedying this situation is telling the unvarnished entire truth with complete transparency (not toning it down to try to avoid “panic.”)

We must err on the side of protecting children.

Both Perry’s statements and the behavior of the school district (including up through this current school year (under Wilton), even after the firings of Fridley and Smith) is the same pattern of condescending (or ignorant, cynical, or corrupt) behavior that lead to the crises in D.C., Flint and so many other American cities!

We can and must do better.

Tamara & Len Rubin

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