If there’s been a hot topic in Oregon this summer, it’s lead in the drinking water at schools around the state. Lead can cause permanent damage, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Yet Gary Ward, administrator of the Oregon Environmental Laboratory Accreditation Program, emailed the Oregon Health Authority recently that lack of funds has pushed the program to “the verge of collapse.” It has waiting lists of both water-testing laboratories and those that hope to test recreational marijuana for impurities.

The federal Environmental Protection Agency sets the maximum amount of lead allowable in drinking water at 15 parts per billion, though, it says, no amount is safe. The state’s maximum allowable amount is 20 parts per million, Recent test results for Brookings-Harbor High School District showed that two handwashing sinks at the high school had trace amounts of lead. A sink in a media lab had 22.9 parts per billion, a sink in a boys bathroom had 32.5 parts per billion. Both sinks have been shut down and covered until repairs can be made.

Since this spring, other school districts around the state have reported similar lead problems. That’s got parents nervous. They’re right to be nervous. In young children, lead ingestion can result in short stature, nerve damage, learning disabilities and hearing problems. That’s just for starters.

Now, as school districts rush to test for lead, they need accredited labs to examine their samples. Recreational marijuana suppliers also need accredited labs to certify their products are free of a variety of harmful products by Oct. 1. With only five accredited labs in the state at the moment, certified weed may be hard to come by for a time.

Ward and three others currently are the only people working to certify laboratories. There is no money to do more, though, Ward says, he was told resources would be available. They’ve yet to show up. The governor’s office says the Oregon Health Authority is “taking steps” to fix the problem. No one, to date, has said how long it will take to put a fix in place.

That’s not acceptable. The Oct. 1 marijuana deadline is not new, and while the purity standards themselves are, surely someone in Oregon government should have seen the problem on the horizon. Now it’s here, and there’s no more time for excuses. There’s only time for action, and quick action at that.

— Wescom News Service (The Bulletin)