Tuesday, June 4, 2019
My mom is one of the leading experts on Lead Poisoning Prevention in the world. She started doing Lead Poisoning Prevention advocacy because I was acutely Lead-Poisoned as a baby (when I was 7 months old.) [See Avi’s story here.]
I have been very interested in her work for quite a while. I have learned from her that there is no real safe level of Lead in drinking water. This makes sense when you think about it. There should not be any amount of poison in water that will be consumed by children (or humans for that matter.)
But even though the CDC’s public statement is that “there is no safe level of Lead exposure for children”, according to current federal laws, the “safe” (acceptable) level of Lead in drinking water coming from a faucet or fountain is anything “below 15 parts per billion.”
2015: When my concerns for Lead in the water in school started…
In the 2015/2016 school year, when I was in 5th grade at Lewis Elementary School in Portland, Oregon I was concerned that the water might have unsafe levels of Lead. I brought bottled water with me to school every day.
That year, after a whole year of being told by the teachers …
- that I was over reacting and…
- that it was not true that there was an unsafe level of Lead in the water and…
- that I was causing unnecessary alarm with my classmates and…
- (some people even arguing with me saying) that they felt that Lead in the water was not even dangerous at all…
…it turned out that after additional testing (by parents and the School District) that the drinking water from the fountains DID have Lead at unsafe levels.
In general 5th grade was a very difficult year for me. While some of my friends believed me, others did not and were angry with me. They did not want to be my friends and they did not believe me about the Lead in the water. They called me paranoid. People reject realities when they are as horrible as the truth is sometimes.
I would like to point out however that the antagonists in this story are not the students or the teachers, it’s much bigger than that. The “antagonist” is ignorance, as it is in most stories… the absence of knowledge and understanding of the subject of lead poisoning and its impact on children specifically.
It took the whole year of trying to bring attention to this matter before anyone listened, before anyone paid attention.
Finally, in May of 2016 – by the end of the school year – the entire community (and the entire country as well) knew that there was an unsafe level of Lead in the water in the Portland Public Schools, Lead that had been poisoning all of my classmates (and my teachers) for years.
The school district turned off the water fountains and then, over the next two and a half years, they said they were working on fixing the problem.
Fast forward to the 2018/2019 school year – 8th Grade
So now I am in middle school (I am just graduating 8th grade), with the same students that were with me in elementary school. Earlier this year when I told my classmates and teachers that the water probably still has unsafe levels of Lead I at least expected the school administrators to have a reasonable doubt enough to do additional testing.
This past winter the school district did eventually do follow up testing and made a determination that the water was “safe to drink” (by federal standards) in some places and they turned back on several of the fountains at my school for my friends to use, including a fountain right outside the special needs learning center (which has been my main classroom for the past three years.)
This caused me great distress, because after seeing the school district’s test results – even by whatever tricks of language they used to create loopholes – I was certain that the water still had unsafe levels of Lead in it, even in the fountains they determined were “safe to drink from”.
I would go to school every single day and watch kids poison themselves (irreversibly) for months by drinking the water, and I didn’t know what to do about it.
How much Lead is too much Lead?
An important point to mention is that the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) has stated that Lead in school drinking fountains specifically should be below ONE (1) part per billion. Keep this in mind for later as you read.
The Federal standard is currently that Lead in drinking water should be below 15 parts per billion, 15 times the recommendation of the AAP.
Portland Public Schools’ claim was that the fountains that had been turned back on tested positive at levels that were “less than 15 parts per billion” Lead and therefore they were safe for my friends to drink from.
I never drink from the water fountains in the school.
I drink water from home (filtered water from our kitchen sink) or I drink water from the bottled water dispensers in the school’s office.
Interesting to note:
- The fountains at Sellwood Middle School remained off for nearly two and a half years (until this winter).
- Until they turned the fountains back on in the school, bottled water dispensers were available for students all over the school.
- Since the fountains have been turned back on, bottled water dispensers are currently only available in the cafeteria / gym, the office and the teacher’s lounge (suspiciously…)
…I say “suspiciously” because perhaps the delivered water is still in the teachers’ areas specifically because the teachers (secretly) know the water is still unsafe to drink. Or maybe it’s because the teachers still didn’t want to drink from the fountains – even though they were okay with young kids drinking from the fountains. Of course this is speculation, but I did talk to a couple of teachers about this and they said they would NEVER drink the water from the school fountains even when the school says it is safe.
So if I am thirsty while I am at school I must go to the teacher’s lounge or to the office for bottled water (because there are usually programs or classes happening in the cafeteria.)
“Safe to Drink”
Not only did the Portland Public School District turn the drinking fountains in my school (Sellwood Middle School) back on around the beginning of 2019, but they put bright green (as in “green means go”) signage up encouraging children to drink from them (see photo above).
I have been furious and very distraught by this.
After seeing my classmates be poisoned from drinking the water every day over the past several months at fountains with signage indicating they were safe to drink from (even when I knew they were not) including seeing my friends take their medicine they need during the school day with this contaminated water I eventually became fed up with the school’s lack of action (and being told I too should drink from these fountains) and I decided to test the water myself.
Tuesday, May 28, 2019 – Testing The Water
Luckily my mom’s good friend Lee Wasserman owns a water testing company that sells DIY-test kits for Lead (where you collect the samples and then send them off to a lab for formal testing), so I was able to get four free test kits for testing water from him.
On May 28, 2019 (a week ago today) I collected samples from two of the downstairs fountains in my middle school… fountains that each have a bright green “safe to drink” sign.
As a “control” (and for comparison), my mom collected two samples from our house, one sample from our kitchen sink that has a Lead filter on it and one sample from our bathroom sink that does not have a filter, but that we do not drink from because we have always been concerned that it might have Lead.
Note: I intentionally took samples of the first water out of the school water fountains on a Tuesday morning after a three-day holiday weekend (before any children had been in the school) because I wanted the test results to reflect the highest possible Lead level that a child would be consuming from that fountain (the worst case scenario).
Here’s a 3-1/2 minute video
of me collecting the samples at my school.
We would have tested more samples in the school, but I didn’t want to be told that I was not allowed to test them and that everything was fine with those fountains (which I had been told repeatedly by teachers and administrators at the school.)
After I collected the samples my mom went with my little brother (Charlie) to the post office and mailed them to the testing company (CertifiedKit.com) to be analyzed.
Here’s a 2-1/2 minute video of my thoughts on
May 28th (after collecting the samples)
Fast Forward To Today, Tuesday, June 4, 2019… Results!
Today the test results were e-mailed back to my mom (see full test results below).
The “Control”: Test results of the filtered water from the kitchen sink in our home (report below)
I’m happy to report that the water that I drink and use to clean the dishes and cook with is completely clean and the filters we use (under our sink) remove any detectable Lead. The test result from our kitchen sink was “less than one part per billion” (<1 ppb) – which is the lowest result reported by this testing company. This means it is essentially negative for Lead and safe to drink.
Special Needs Classroom Fountain, Ms. Fisher’s Room (report below)
Outside of the Special Needs Classroom (Ms. Fisher’s class, my homeroom for most of the past three years) the fountain drinking water sample tested positive for 14.4 parts per billion (ppb) Lead. Even though this is below the standard the school district has chosen to follow, that standard (the federal standard) does not protect children’s health. The water should still be below 1 ppb and, at this level (14.4 ppb) is considered very poisonous to children by the American Academy of Pediatrics and others working to protect children.
Marimba / Math Classroom Fountain, Mr. Beck’s Room (report below)
Furthermore the water outside the Marimba room tested positive for 27.3 ppb Lead. This is the fountain I see people (including my friends) drink from every single day as I have two classes in Mr. Beck’s classroom (the Marimba room). This is considered toxic even by the less strict federal standards and is COMPLETELY unacceptable.
Our bathroom sink (report below)
I’m disappointed that our bathroom sink has problems, but I am glad that it is not used for any drinking or substantial washing. Even then I think we should get a filter on our bathroom sink. Most important: when you look at the bathroom sink in our 1905 home having a test result of 4.18 ppb Lead, it really shows how ridiculously hight the Lead levels at the school are by comparison.
I cannot believe how terrible this is and I am going to go talk to the teachers about this.
I wonder why the school doesn’t just already use filters (like the ones we use in our home) to filter out the Lead. They should just already have these filters in place even if they don’t think there is Lead in the water, just in case something happens in the water delivery system (to cover a worst case scenario.) If they say that they don’t have good enough filters because they don’t have enough money, getting better filters should be a higher priority on their “to do list” or they should just get more funding specifically for better filters in all the schools. It’s the prevention of poisoning children for life on the line here.
My advice to you is that you should also investigate. You shouldn’t just take your school district’s word that the water is safe for your children to drink. You should test it on your own or petition someone to test it for your school.
Sellwood Middle School, 8th Grade
Portland, Oregon – USA
Avi Rubin has a brain injury from being acutely lead poisoned as a baby at 7 months old. His visual memory is in the 4th percentile (which impacts his ability to read and write) but he has a 130 I.Q. (one point shy of MENSA). He dictated the above letter to mom, who typed it for him.
Avi’s final thoughts on this (video)…
(continue reading below the video to see the water test result reports).
… and from mom….
Mom’s take on the situation to be posted shortly.
This is the test result for the fountain outside the special needs support classroom (Ms. Fisher’s classroom):
Fran Van Cleave says
I thought nothing could be worse than the food served for lunch in my child’s school, but I was wrong. Why is it such a problem to provide clean water to kids in so many American schools? So glad you folks are fighting for what’s right!
Avi, continue to be brave & speak up even if it’s not the popular thing to do. You are learning a good life lesson that will carry you throughout your life. I’m sorry for the ridicule from friend, peers & teachers, it’s just wrong. I suggest you take your advocacy higher up to your school district, to your state legislators, to the state department of education maybe you can be the one to create change. Often people don’t want to hear the truth & it’s hard to have an unpopular opinion, it’s easier to go with the crowd. Hugs to you & your mom.
Thank you for your kind words. I will make sure he sees this! (I will read it to him).
You can definitely get his IQ tested again as it is most likely to change. There can be variability as he is still an adolescent. He may qualify for MENSA and it has quite a few pretty fun benefits. I know our local group likes chess. But IQ is not the be it and end all. He sounds very smart and, most importantly, caring, resilient and persistent. Very impressive kid from the impression I have of this post.
Thank you so much Cheryl!
He’s really brilliant. There are some gems from this that I read to his Dad (my husband) and he was like “Wow, I cannot get over the pearls of wisdom coming from this kiddo!”
Thank you all for doing so much research on your own time and fighting.
The city & PPS need to change a lot of things and this should definitely be a priority. We need to stop poisoning our children from water and food. Have you compared results to regular unfiltered tap water? I just found an article that states Portland water has hexavalent chromium and arsenic among other contaminants, scary stuff.
Thank you for commenting. The water test of the bathroom sink (at the bottom of the post) is unfiltered tap water in our home. That test came in at 4.18 ppb. (vs. the 14.4 and 27.3 ppb results for the school drinking fountains.) Unfortunately we just tested for Lead with this round.
Kathy Lauckner says
What a real and honest story. I hope all of Portland holds the school district accountable and demands action.
Hi Tamara and Avi,
I find your work super interesting, and I hope this is research qualifies as science extra credit because Avi should receive an A! Has your school board been informed of Avi’s current findings? I’m sure they’d love to read his findings and hear from Avi in person at a school board meeting.
I know some of the drinking fountains at my son’s school have special filters. Maybe Avi’s information would encourage administrators to take the next steps towards improving the district’s drinking water quality.
Thanks for sharing all your work,
Fabulous work and article. My family has has been lead poisoned too. My grandfather melted lead in his basement for his work with the San Jose police department reloading shells. This was the home that my mom grew up in and helped in the process. The lead destroyed my grandfathers heart before he could be chelated. My mom passed lead to me in utero and I passed it to my son. My mom, son and I have successfully chelated with EDTA through MD’s and naturopaths. My levels and my sons have decreased dramatically. Due to the extreme level of my moms exposure she does and annual series of chelation.
This is very interesting research, thank you for all your work. I was wondering if the control samples from your house were taken after no one had used them for a while? Avi said he waited to take samples from the school fountains before they had been flushed and I was just wondering if the control samples were taken in a similar fashion (usually waiting to take samples early in the morning before anyone has used them)?
Thank you for your time!
Sandrine Perez says
I have shared this in the Portland forums I am a part of, and beyond to the Nourishing Our Children and Weston A. Price Foundation communities and very much appreciative Avi’s invstigative reporting! I sincerely hope this will inspire change in the water offered at schools!
I would love to see the videos that are mentioned in the article. I will try another browser, but there were no videos linked to or posted in the body of the article on Safari that I could access.
Hi Sandrine! Thank you for commenting and thank you reading and sharing (and for watching if that works out!) I think you have to have your popup blockers turned off to watch the videos. Can you try that and let me know if it works for you?
Sandrine Perez says
Yes, Tamara, I needed to open the article in Chrome and I can see all the videos! I thought that Avi’s report was incredibly well-written and I’d love you to pass that along to him! I will be sharing the article beyond the closed groups I’ve already shared in, but also our Weston A. Price Foundation and Nourishing Our Children’s pubic Facebook pages! I will also link to your Facebook page when I do! Again, thank you for this valuable investigative reporting!
Thank you so much Sandrine!
Hopefully we can connect in person again soon! [Come over for tea when I am going to be in town next!]
Skye Byrne says
Go Avi! What an amazing boy he is.
Thank you, Skye! I love that kid!
Avi, you are my hero! I am forwarding this email to my son and grandson in Minneapolis. My grandson is also in middle school and now I will worry about lead in the water and school shootings.
Tamara, because of your example I tested some of my vintage dishes that I have been collecting for years. Fortunately only one of them tested positive for lead. We live in an area that has a good hazardous waste disposal system so they did take the dish from me.
I posted my findings on our local NEXT DOOR web site here in Stillwater, MN and the response was immediate and gratifying. People care.
I also had a blood test and the results came out within the government “safe levels”.
Safe…! Now to the task of trying to get it out of my system.
Thank you both for you courage and persistence. You are saving lives.
Thank you so much, Sheila! I will share this with Avi when he gets home from school today!
Thanks a lot for your work Avi!! thank you for caring! Your prompted me to go check my kids schools water supply and I’ll be contacting the school district. Tamara could you please share which water filter do you have at home? I have the aquasana,it says it filters lead, but haven’t tested the water. Do you know more about it?
This young man is impressive and no doubt going places. He must have a very strong self esteem to tolerate the social stigma and ostracizing he’s had to cope with. A young version of Erin Brokovich! Thank you parents for supporting him!!
Thank you so much! He is amazing. I am super proud of him. We have to figure out what is next for him for school. With his brain injury he has not gotten the accommodations that he is legally required to get from the school district – so there’s no way he could even begin to tackle high school… We’re working on figuring out alternatives that can both accommodate his brain injury AND give him the stimulation and learning he wants and craves (he wants to be an astrophysicist!)
Excellent job, Avi!! Great reporting and I love how you did control samples and sampled first water of the morning–just like a water quality scientist! I am an environmental engineer in CA and I used to do water testing for the city. Every few years we would have to go out and collect water samples for Lead (and Copper) to comply with Fed and State guidelines. We would have to try to select samples in the areas that were MOST impacted by lead–based on what we knew of the age of buildings or types of pipelines installed or previous positive results. The law required us to try to find the worst lead levels in the city. I suggest reporting your findings to your local water department. Ask them to collect samples at your school next time they do sample collection for lead. It sounds like you are in Portland–here are their latest water quality reports: https://www.portlandoregon.gov/water/article/244813 Also, it looks like they provide free lead testing kits–you could repeat your sampling to see if there is variance. Great research and reporting! I agree with the earlier comment to report this to your school board! Great job, you should be proud!
Jamie Lok says
Thank you so much for your brave inquiry. I was just starting to question the drinking quality of my sons school fountains. I was just wondering how all the fountains in our school were suddenly ‘working ‘ again after two years. How infuriating! Our school is going to be one of the pilot schools for a filter to see if it is works instead of replacing the pipes. I started to wonder why they are testing it out on children like Guinea pigs, and why are they needing to change the fountains if they were already fixed. You would think PPS would have learn there lesson two years ago. Thank you for this information.
Thanks for being the coolest brother a guy could wish for! I am so happy you did this and shared your articulate findings with such a wide community. Thanks for being you and for having the courage to speak up, always. Much love and I hope to see you soon! Peace
This is great information. It actually prompted me to test the water in two of the classrooms in which I work at PPS. One tested 85 ppb and the other classroom tested 75 ppb. The water was tested at a certified environmental lab here in Portland. I haven’t notified PPS yet of my results. I’m wondering how PPS responded to Avi’s test? The District removed all filtered water from our site because they assured us that the tap water was now safe for consumption.
Hi Karina –
In true PPS fashion they have not bothered to respond to us (or to Avi personally – which would have been the respectful thing to do) but they did respond to our state legislators. I am working on a follow up post from my perspective and Avi will also likely do a follow up post with his perspective as well. This is truly outrageous.