The latest water testing results from the Vernon School District are in.
They were released after Global News filed a Freedom of Information request. They show elevated lead concentrations in stagnant water at two North Okanagan schools
However, the school district says it has flushing systems in place that make the water safe to drink.
It’s an improvement from 2016, when the Vernon School District notified parents that elevated levels of lead had been found in stagnant water at five schools.
The latest testing, done in September and August, showed that lead concentrations in the water from two sources at Kalamalka Secondary School and the office fountain at Mission Hill Elementary had lead concentrations above the maximum acceptable concentrations recommended by federal drinking water guidelines when taps were not flushed.
“The water in all our schools (is) safe to consume, the tap water within School District 22 facilities comply with the maximum allowable concentrations for lead after a 30-second flush,” said school district communications coordinator Maritza Reilly.
Indeed, the tests results show that when the taps were flushed for 30 seconds, lead concentrations in the water dropped into the acceptable range.
The school district said it is in “full compliance” because many schools “are fitted with an automatic flushing system, which flushes water through the pipes.”
“This is done before anyone arrives on site. The water . . . once students arrive at the schools is safe to consume,” Reilly said.
So the district says the acceptable lead concentration results found, after 30 seconds of flushing the pipes, are representative of the water supply in schools when they are occupied by staff and students.
However, to get these results released, Global Okanagan made repeated requests.
In 2016, the school district said it would be flushing school pipes each day and swapping out plumbing parts containing lead to address the issue.
Beginning this past summer, Global News attempted to follow up with the district to find out if progress had been made, making repeated requests for testing data and filing an FOI request.
“Your emails came a week before schools (open) where our director of facilities and our maintenance staff are busy preparing all our classrooms and schools for the arrival of our students. That is our main priority to get our schools ready,” Reilly said.
Flushing of pipes to get rid of build ups of lead will continue. It is a method Interior Health supports as an acceptable way to deal with the issue.
“We are not seeing it throughout the entire school. It is one sample site out of a number of sample sites throughout the school, so that indicates levels are just barely above the maximum acceptable concentration at those schools. Flushing is a viable solution at this time,” said Jennifer Jacobsen a team leader with Environmental Health at the Interior Health Authority.