As Portlanders prepared for the holiday weekend our city’s school system released a statement announcing plans to “turn off all of its drinking fountains and bring in bottled water for drinking and food preparation for the remainder of the school year,” according to an article in today’s Oregonian. The move follows the discovery of elevated lead levels in the water at two local schools: Rose City Park and Creston. What Friday’s statement does not address is why the city schools department has been slow to act – and less than candid with parents – concerning this threat to our children.

According to the newspaper, water at Rose City Park tested at “as much as double the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s ‘action level’ of 15 parts per billion.” What has so many Portland parents concerned is the school Superintendent’s acknowledgement in an email last week that the city has known about this issue for eight weeks and neither turned off the water at the affected schools nor warned parents and employees while repairs were being made.

The city now says it intends to test all Portland’s schools over the summer break. That is critically late in and of itself, especially when one learns that “the last time Portland Public Schools did widespread water quality testing, 15 years ago, the results showed” 35 of the first 40 schools tested had “at least one location” with unacceptably high lead levels. Prior to that 2001 round of testing, the paper reports, “the last documented testing… had taken place in 1991.”

A newly published report from SafeKids, an organization which regular readers know I have long supported, takes many unsettling facts about teens and cars out of the realm of hearsay. The best way to prevent teen car-related deaths and injuries is to know how and why they occur in the first place. That makes this report essential reading for every Oregon parent.

The report summary begins with an uncomfortable figure: 2138… the number of teens killed in car crashes in 2014 (the most recent year for which full data is available). On the positive side, it notes that “from 1994 to 2013, the rate of teen drivers killed actually decreased by 61 percent” adding that this two decades of progress “demonstrates the effectiveness of prevention efforts by government, industry, the medical community and nonprofits in passing graduated licensing laws, engineering safer cars and raising public awareness about risky behaviors.”

The report goes on to state that “2014, however, saw the death rate begin to increase again and early estimates for 2015 suggest that may continue.” Its main prescription is more of the kind of education and public outreach that has been so effective over time. We have all heard the public information campaigns, but it still needs to be said, and repeated often: avoid distracted driving, don’t overload the car, don’t speed and, perhaps most importantly: always buckle up and never drink and drive.

A recent article in The Oregonian recounts the story of a 13-year-old Gresham girl severely injured late last month while she and a friend were crossing the street on their way home from school. According to the newspaper the seventh grader and a friend were using a marked crosswalk when a 44-year-old Gresham woman “ran a red light and hit the girls” with her delivery van.

One of the girls “suffered a significant brain injury and several fractures.” The eventual extent of her recovery remains uncertain. The other child was less seriously injured and has been released from the hospital.

The newspaper reports that friends of the severely injured girl’s family have set up a crowdfunding page to help them cope with what are likely to be years of significant expenses in the wake of this Oregon reckless driving crash involving injuries to two children (The Oregonian’s story below includes a link to the GoFundMe page).

A single-car crash last weekend near Arlington is drawing attention to the laws and legal issues surrounding seat belt use here in Oregon.

According to a report in The Oregonian the Interstate-84 fatal Oregon car crash took place in the early hours of Sunday morning, near milepost 132 when a 1999 Chevrolet SUV traveling in the westbound lane “for unknown reasons… left the roadway and crashed through the guardrail on the north side of the freeway.” The vehicle’s driver “was taken by Life Flight to Kadlec Regional Medical Center in Richland, Washington, and he died on the way, according to state police.”

The vehicle also was carrying a passenger, a 23-year-old Portland man. According to the newspaper he was taken the OHSU hospital where he was admitted in critical condition.

With spring well under way and summer around the corner it is time again for me to remind readers of the importance of window safety and the crucial work done by SafeKids Oregon.

Earlier this month the country marked National Window Safety Week. As SafeKids noted at the time: “windows rank as one of the top five hidden hazards in the home, according to the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission.” The good news is that, the group notes, educational efforts do seem to be having an effect: across Oregon “the number of children falling from windows and being admitted to the trauma system (dropped) from a high of 52 children in 2010 to 26 children in 2015.”

While that progress is excellent, more still needs to be done. As SafeKids notes: “Window falls are a preventable cause of injury and death to young children” and the basic ways of stopping them are simple. Parents should remember to keep windows closed and locked when they are not in use, to make sure that children play a safe distance away from open windows and, most importantly, to “stop at 4” – meaning to ensure that open windows are limited to a four inch gap and held in place by window guards (to prevent children from opening them further). Another important tip: if a window can be opened from both the top and the bottom secure the bottom closed and open it only from the top.

An article published this week in the New York Times outlines what many of us have long suspected: distracted driving, the paper writes, “by just about any measure, appears to be getting worse. Americans confess in surveys that they are still texting while driving, as well as using Facebook and Snapchat and taking selfies. Road fatalities, which had fallen for years, are now rising sharply, up roughly 8 percent in 2015 over the previous year, according to preliminary estimates.”

It quotes the head of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration saying “radical change requires radical ideas,” and then goes on to offer some striking examples. The most unique, proposed by legislators in New York “is to give police officers a new device that is the digital equivalent of a Breathalyzer – a roadside test called the Textalyzer.”

As the Times outlines, an officer would collect phones from drivers and passengers and use the device “to tap into (each phone’s) operating system to check for recent activity.” The answers provided by the machine would determine not only whether the driver had been texting but also whether he or she had violated New York’s hands-free laws (the oldest in the nation) in any other way. “Failure to hand over a phone could lead to the suspension of a driver’s license, similar to the consequences for refusing a Breathalyzer,” the paper reports.

A report broadcast last Sunday on 60 Minutes brought into stark detail alleged abuses in the insurance industry. CBS News found a pattern, which it believes is replicated nationwide, of insurance giants failing to pay life insurance policies despite knowing that the insured person had died.

The report quotes Florida’s insurance commissioner calling the behavior “unconscionable, indefensible” and alleging that it is close to universal in the industry. Simply put, it involves insurance companies knowing that a person has died but failing to inform the beneficiaries of life insurance policies. Instead, the company simply waits for premium payments from the now-deceased policyholder to stop coming in, then cancels the policy for non-payment and pockets what would have been the benefit owed to a surviving spouse, children or grandchildren.

CBS adds: “In a little-known series of settlements, 25 of the nation’s biggest life insurance companies have agreed to pay more than $7.5 billion in back-death benefits. However, about 35 insurance companies have not settled and remain under investigation for not paying when the beneficiary is unaware there was a policy, something that is not at all uncommon.”

The Oregonian reports that a Beaverton nurse was allowed to continue working with patients while under investigation for sexual misconduct on the job and allegedly committed a similar offense during that time. The incident, if the facts are as reported, raises serious questions about how the nurse’s employer, Kaiser Permanente, deals with abuse allegations among its employees. The result is a case which concerns both hospital malpractice and sexual assault.

According to the newspaper the 37-year-old North Plains man was indicted earlier this month “on one count of first-degree criminal mistreatment, three counts of invasion of personal privacy, two counts of computer crime and four counts of third-degree sex abuse, police said. The charges relate to three alleged victims, but detectives have identified two more and are investigating their claims.”

The claim that the man was allowed to keep working is particularly striking when one considers how quickly the case has moved. Far from being something that has dragged on for many months or years, The Oregonian reports that “police first started investigating (the nurse) on Jan. 28 after a woman reported that he made sexual statements to her and sexually touched her during a visit to the Beaverton clinic two days earlier.” In other words, this case has gone from initial allegations to a wide-ranging indictment in about nine weeks – a case of the criminal justice system moving fairly quickly. Despite that, however, it is hard to imagine another workplace context where an employer would regard it as OK to keep an employee accused of sexual assault in a position to recommit the alleged offenses.

With pedestrian and bicyclist deaths on the rise here in Portland, something I wrote about earlier this month, safety questions are increasingly becoming part of our city’s political agenda. As The Oregonian noted in a recent article, 2016’s “year-to-date death toll is nearly twice the seven fatalities recorded during the same period last year.” As a result, attention around this issue is increasing.

It is especially noteworthy that eight of this year’s 13 fatal crashes involving a cyclist or a pedestrian have happened in East Portland neighborhoods, according to a Portland Bureau of Transportation official quoted by the paper. At a time when the city is trying to implement the “Vision Zero” program, which aspires to eliminate pedestrian deaths on Portland’s streets by 2025, the rise in fatalities is especially unwelcome. With luck it will also serve as a spur to action.

According to the newspaper, city officials have plans to install many more flashing yellow lights at crosswalks, particularly in East Portland, as part of the Vision Zero project. The city also plans to make alterations to curbs and median islands in an effort to make key crossings more pedestrian and bike-friendly. The paper reports that the city recently installed rapid-flash beacons – “devices that light up for drivers to see pedestrians, who, in turn, hear ‘yellow lights are flashing’ in English and Spanish” – in 16 locations around the city, building on a program that has brought 34 of these devices to East Portland alone since 2012.

According to a recent article in The Oregonian “the city had, as of Friday (April 1), tallied 12 traffic fatalities so far in 2016, compared with seven over the same period last year. Five of those killed were walking when they were hit by a car, and one was riding a bike.” This raises a clear and obvious public policy question: what is the best and most efficient way to fix this situation? Yet according to the newspaper, millions of dollars in federal funds that could be used for essential pedestrian and bicycle infrastructure upgrades are likely to be directed toward other priorities.

As The Oregonian reports: “The debate focuses on a $130 million pool of (federal government) money that comes with few restrictions and can be awarded by Metro over three years to a variety of transportation projects.” Specifically, the question is whether to focus those funds on upgrading pedestrian and bicycle safety infrastructure or to direct it toward other projects, notably mass transit. The money, “known as regional flexible funds, is important to bicycle and pedestrian advocates because most federal funds are earmarked for road or transit projects. The pool is expected to grow by $17 million compared with the last three-year cycle,” the paper writes.

The current plan is to direct most of that money toward “new high-capacity transit lines being planned connecting downtown Portland to Gresham and Tualatin.” There are, however, two strong arguments for focusing the money, instead, on safety upgrades for pedestrians and cyclists. First, those increased fatality statistics, which indicate a serious and rising problem here in the city. Second, the fact that because the sum – $17 million – will go much further and have a more dramatic effect if focused on pedestrian and bike projects. These tend to be small and inexpensive when compared with rail or highway-building which can cost tens of millions of dollars per mile.