Portland tap water is generally safe to drink in 2023, but there are a few caveats. Portland has incredibly soft water, which can be corrosive to metals and lead, and can cause water contamination if your household plumbing system is soldered with lead.
In this article, we’re going to list some of the most important contaminants in Portland’s tap water and the health risks they might pose.
Portland Water Quality Report: What’s in the Water?
The tests conducted on Portland’s water show the presence of various contaminants like lead, arsenic, cyanide, and nitrate, albeit in trace amounts. With the exception of lead, none of them are at worrying levels.
A Table of Contaminants for Portland Tap Water in 2023
Below is a table that shows the concentrations of the most common contaminants found in Portland’s water and how they fare against the EPA regulations.
|Lead (ppb)||0.05 – 0.15||0|
|Arsenic (ppb)||0.5 – 1.2||10|
|HAA5 (ppb)||22 – 40.8||60|
|TTHMs (ppb)||20.9 – 36.1||80|
|Barium (ppm)||0.00081 – 0.01030||2|
|Cyanide (ppb)||5 – 14||200|
|Fluoride (ppm)||0.025 – 0.160||4|
|Nitrate (ppm)||0.012 – 0.30||10|
As you can see, the only concern is the concentration of lead. However, you can head to our guide on how to remove lead from water and lay your worries to rest.
Lead in Portland’s Water
As early as November 2021, studies showed increased lead levels in drinking water around Portland’s metro area. While the presence of lead was not consistent in water across the entire city, significant concentrations in the metro area were a cause for concern.
That concern seems justified since water quality reports shows that Portland tap water has a lead concentration of 0.5 parts per billion (ppb) at maximum and 0.05 ppb at minimum. As the EPA establishes that there should be no lead at all in drinking water, these numbers are worrying.
The main factor behind the presence of lead is the corrosive character of Portland’s extremely soft water. When this water comes into contact with lead solderings found in houses built before 1985, it causes lead to dissolve and run through the faucets. That’s especially the case when water sits in the pipes for some time.
As can be deduced from the EPA’s stance on the matter, lead is an extremely dangerous heavy metal. It can lead to behavioural issues and slowed growth in children, pre-mature birth in pregnant women, and cardiovascular and reproductive problems in adults.
Therefore, if your house is built before 1985, replacing the piping might be a good first step to solving the lead problem. Furthermore, if you’re worried about lead seeping into your water, you can request a free test kit from the authorities.
Arsenic, Haloacetic Acids, and Total Trihalomethanes
Another 2021 study showed excessive levels of arsenic, haloacetic acids (HAA5), and total trihalomethanes (TTHMs). However, 2022 reports show that these levels are below the EPA regulations.
Arsenic is linked to multiple adverse health issues, including cancer, Type 2 diabetes, and cardiovascular disease. That said, with 0.50 – 1 ppb in their drinking water, which is way below the 10 ppb threshold set by the EPA, the Portlandians are safe from these issues.
According to the EPA, if the haloacetic acid concentration in water is lower than 60 ppb, it’s safe to drink. Portland’s taps have a HAA5 concentration in the range of 22 – 48 ppb. Moreover, whereas the EPA allows for 80 ppb of TTHMs, Portland water has only 21 – 36 ppb.
That said, these are still very dangerous contaminants that should be taken seriously and tested for regularly by sending water samples to EPA-certified labs. Haloacetic acids, for example, are more common in public water and increase the risk of bladder cancer, colon cancer, and adverse developmental effects during pregnancy.
Total trihalomethanes are disinfection byproducts that form when chlorine reacts with other chemicals that occur naturally in water. They are also linked to cancers and reproductive health issues.
Barium, Cyanide, Fluoride, and Nitrate
Barium, cyanide, fluoride, and nitrate are other regulated contaminants that can be found in Portland’s water during the studies conducted in 2022. However, in relation to the EPA standards, we can say that only trace amounts are present and don’t pose a serious health hazard. (You can see the numbers in the table below.)
However, these contaminants should be taken seriously when they have a bigger presence. Barium can cause paralysis and death if consumed in large doses, fluoride can lead to bone fractures and arthritis, and the status of cyanide and nitrate as powerful poisons is already well-established.
Is Portland Tap Water Hard or Soft?
Considering that 61 to 180 ppm indicates moderate to very hard water, tap water in Portland is incredibly soft with a hardness of 12 parts per million (ppm). On average, Oregon’s water has a hardness of 29 ppm.
If you’re unsure about your water hardness level, we recommend you to send your water sample to a certified water testing lab like Simplelab Technologies.
Where Does Portland Get Its Water From?
Portland’s drinking water supply comes from the Bull Run Watershed. It’s nearly 30 miles east of Portland, separated from Mount Hood by a prominent ridgeline. Along with the Bull Run Watershed, the Portland city government also operates the Columbia South Shore Well Field as a supplementary water source for the city.
That said, there’s no filtration process implemented by the city. However, Portland drinking water is treated in three critical steps:
- Chlorine disinfectant: Controls microorganisms like bacteria and viruses.
- Ammonia: Stabilizes the chlorine for a longer-lasting disinfecting process.
- Sodium hydroxide: Treatment helps to reduce metal corrosion and introduce less lead into the drinking water.
With this water treatment process, Portland can provide soft tap water that is generally safe for consumption, and constant improvements are pushing the city towards lead-free water.
Of course, individuals can install home filtration systems or use portable filters to further improve the water quality.
Do They Have the Cleanest Tap Water?
While Portland has clean tap water with turbidity levels of only 0.18 – 2.81, it is not the cleanest in the state or country.
It is, however, incredibly soft and entirely safe for consumption without a home filtration system. Regardless, we always recommend filtering your water irrespective of the water quality report.
Compared to other Pacific Northwest cities, Portland has nearly immaculate water. Tests have shown it to be low on contaminants like giardia lamblia, cryptosporidium, fecal coliform, and total coliform bacteria.
The Portland city government is dedicated to total adherence to standards set by the Environmental Protection Agency through the Safe Drinking Water Act. And because the state of Oregon has its own standards as well, having clean drinking water in Portland is a top priority.
Do People Drink Tap Water in Portland?
Many residents drink Portland tap water. It’s considered safe for drinking without a filter, although a home filter is never a bad idea. The city takes extraordinary measures to ensure that the water is treated and free from harmful bacteria and contaminants before it reaches your tap.
Portland tap water is one of the best tap water in the US. The extensive testing and treatment process is likely a contributing factor, as well as the nearby natural water resources.
With two high-quality water sources, Portland has clean tap water that is naturally soft, and the city government is constantly working to improve tap water quality for residents.
To sum up, the water quality in Portland is quite high. Its turbidity levels are acceptable, and the presence of dangerous contaminants like arsenic, cyanide, nitrate, and barium are way below the EPA standards.
The only problem is the lead levels that sometimes reaches up to 0.5 ppb in some households. Lead presence is primarily due to old-school household piping with lead solders. Although local authorities claim that such lead levels are unlikely to cause any health complications, it’s still better to err on the side of caution.