Portland mom Tamara Rubin first became aware of the dangers of lead when her young son was poisoned. A bright boy, her son experienced irrevocable brain abnormalities, such as memory deficits, after exposure to lead fumes during a home renovation.

Now, Rubin is passionate about making all environments, including schools, safe for children.

“Children spend most of their day in school during the school year and they have a right to be protected from toxicity in these public facilities,” Rubin told The Oregonian.

Executive director of the non-profit Lead Safe America, Rubin started a Change.org petition calling on the Portland school district to clean up existing lead hazards in all public school  buildings.

“We’re one of the greenest cities in the country,” Rubin said of Portland. “Why should we be poisoning our children?”

Of Portland’s 86 public school buildings in use, the vast majority were built before 1978 and pose more of a threat due to old paint which may contain lead. To keep students safe, the district completes annual inspections in “child-occupied spaces” – locations used often by children in second grade or younger.

With data collected from the district’s annual reports, The Oregonian compiled a searchable database of lead contaminations in all Portland public school buildings. Ranked from 1 to 4, 1 being the least hazardous, the data highlighted signs of old chipping and flaking paint.

Using an X-ray fluorescence instrument, Rubin measured paint at Llewellyn school to find it contained 185,000 ppm lead. The FDA standard threshold for paint to be considered toxic is only 5,000 ppm.

“I’ve been told that there’s nothing [Portland Public Schools] can do because they’re not breaking the law,” Rubin said. “But that doesn’t mean it’s safe for the kids.”

To learn more about lead poisoning and how you can protect your family and community, visit Lead Safe America.


When not writing, Sierra can be found conducting experiments in the chemistry lab or whipping up delectable creations in her kitchen. With a passion for storytelling, Sierra puts her natural curiosity to use investigating enlightening angles for news and events here at The Oregon Optimist.