Editors note: A reader requested a response from the Portland Water Bureau on the article Drinking winter well-water (concerns with radon, water quality, and public health) in our March 2017 edition. Here is PWB’s response.

“Portland’s families deserve factual and timely information about their drinking water. As a matter of public health, it is imperative that these issues be addressed with accuracy and transparency.

The Water Bureau appreciates the opportunity to address many of the unfounded assertions regarding radon in one of Portland’s water supplies raised in Scott Fernandez’s March 6, 2017, op-ed.

Radon in Portland’s drinking water does not pose a significant health concern. To understand why, it is important to first know that the greatest risk associated with radon comes from long-term exposure to breathing air with high levels of radon, such as from indoor air in basements where radon released from soils can accumulate.

Mr. Fernandez’s suggestion that Portland families are exposed to dangerous levels of radon emitted by their drinking water is misleading and not supported by data.

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and researchers alike concur that drinking water is not the most significant source of radon in household air. When radon is present in drinking water, the EPA states that only 1–2 percent of indoor air radon is from drinking water.

That is why when it comes to radon in homes, the EPA encourages states to take a multi-faceted approach to mitigating radon and “focus their efforts on the greatest radon risks—those in indoor air—while also reducing the risks from radon in drinking water.”

For systems taking such an approach, the EPA has proposed a limit of 4,000 pCi/L (picocuries per liter) for radon in drinking water. In other words, regulators assert that it would take a level that high in drinking water to impact household air above ambient levels.

By contrast, the radon level from the Columbia South Shore Well Field ranges from 131–390 pCi/L at the source. Previous analysis of Portland’s system proves that radon levels at customer taps are actually much lower than the source water, as radon naturally decays over time as water travels through the distribution system.

Portland Water Bureau understands and appreciates the concern of Portland’s families about this and other important public health matters. However, conversations about the true risk posed by radon need to be rooted in good science.

Most importantly, [The Southeast] Examiner readers should know that the Water Bureau works hard every day to protect public health.

We encourage readers to visit portlandoregon.gov/water/68444 and epa.gov/radon to learn more.”

Dear Mayor Wheeler,

The neighbors on SE Harrison and SE Lincoln would like to invite you to come to a street meeting to discuss the current changes recently announced by the Park Bureau for the Lincoln St. entry to Mt. Tabor Park (also called “the Long Block”).

We would like you to be able to see first hand the importance of the Long Block. We would like the opportunity to explore our concerns with you and see if there are other alternatives to meeting the Park Bureau’s needs while protecting public use of the Long Block and the integrity of the entrance to the park.

The Park Bureau plans to fence off approximately 1/3 of the long block, cover the grass with gravel and use to stage potted plants and trees trucked in by local nurseries.

The first the community heard about this was at a public meeting in March 2017, when the Parks Bureau announced the decision had been made to move this function onto the Long Block in 2018.

We were told recent design changes to the master plan for the Mt. Tabor Maintenance Yard and Nursery have eliminated space for this function. More space is now required and it’s being taken from the open space on the Long Block.

The current Mt. Tabor Yard and Nursery Master Plan indicates the area is designated as “in ground nursery”, from SE 60th to the new community garden plot at the east end of the block.

With increasing budget pressures and the improved commercial availability of suitable trees, the Bureau in 2008, opted to stop the tree nursery function, remove the remaining trees, level the field and plant grass.

The area now is used daily by Portlanders as a flat, accessible field excellent for group and individual play, relaxation, dog walking, meditation, photography and countless other activities.  It’s value as “open space” remains huge as well, particularly as other areas of the city are becoming densely populated with multi-family dwellings that have no yards.

The Mt. Tabor Yard and Nursery Masterplan was an outcome of the Parks Bureau attempting to sell off 8 acres of Mt. Tabor Park for private development.

Over two dozen citizen committee members, along with as many city staff, voted on the final master plan. It was passed by city council in December 2008. Now Parks is reneging on the master plan’s commitment to open space and has overridden the public process.

We recognize that things change in time, and that it is no longer cost-effective to raise trees on the Long Block. Yet, the need to protect existing parks and open spaces hasn’t changed. In fact, it’s becoming increasingly urgent to become better stewards of our parks when infill and up-zoning of neighborhoods is rapidly increasing.

Is there an already paved lot near Mt. Tabor Yard that would accommodate vehicles and potted plants without destroying the field for further horticulture, and removing it from public access?

We hope to meet with you to find a solution that doesn’t remove the Long Block from public use as a park, and meets the needs of the Parks Bureau.

Thanks for your consideration. We look forward to hearing from you soon.

Liz Fanning

Jocelyn Goodall

Kay Hall

Shannon Loch

PP&R will present more information on the Long Block plans, as well as the public art and bike/pedestrian pathway at the next Planning Group meeting on Thursday, May 11, 7 pm at the Tabor Space Dining Room, 5441 SE Belmont St. 

We encourage you and other interested neighbors to attend this meeting to see if the future design considerations address your concerns and will continue following this issue with reports from staff, and will check in with PP&R staff after the May 11 meeting to hear more about the community’s support of the new information.