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Portlanders Warned Against Eating Produce From School Gardens

<p>Rigler Elementary School in Northeast Portland is one of more than 70 schools in Oregon's largest district with a community garden.</p>

Rob Manning

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Rigler Elementary School in Northeast Portland is one of more than 70 schools in Oregon's largest district with a community garden.

Portland Public Schools is putting a virtual “do not eat” sign at the gates to about 75 community gardens. The Oregon Health Authority says it didn’t directly advise Portland, but the district found elevated lead levels in water spigots that may be used for gardening.

Officials at Portland Public Schools are warning against eating produce grown in school gardens. It’s based on advice from state health officials.

A warning on the OHA website Friday says “lead can be absorbed by plants” and that "water containing lead above 15 ppb should not be used for irrigating or watering your garden or household plants."

PPS communications director Courtney Westling says the district is trying to be careful.

“We don’t yet know which spigots are watering which gardens," Westling said. "Until we know more about that detail, we want to make sure we’re not encouraging folks to eat the produce that’s growing in those gardens.”

Some advocates for community gardens, however, disagree with the district’s announcement. They argue that some school gardens use water from sources other than compromised school spigots, and should be growing lead-free vegetables that are safe to eat.

District officials say they’re gathering more information, and will likely adjust their advice based on that.

Other districts, such as Beaverton, Reynolds and Oregon City have found high lead at schools where there are gardens outside.

Copyright 2016 Oregon Public Broadcasting

Rob Manning is a news editor at Oregon Public Broadcasting, with oversight of reporters covering education, healthcare and business. Rob became an editor in 2019, following about 15 years covering schools and universities in Oregon and southwest Washington as OPB’s education reporter.