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Canada

Quebec to review how it tests drinking water following investigative report

WATCH: Global News reporter Dan Spector has the story.

Quebec Premier François Legault says the province is planning to change how it tests drinking water for lead in response to an investigative report published on Wednesday by Global News, which revealed that the province is using sampling methods that don’t accurately measure the true levels of exposure.

Speaking to reporters after a cabinet meeting, Legault said he was surprised by what he learned about his province’s practices from the joint investigation that also involved journalists from Concordia University’s Institute for Investigative Journalism and Le Devoir.

READ MORE: Investigation reveals dangerous lead levels in some Quebec drinking water

The investigative report, based on sampling data released by municipalities through access to information legislation and independent lab tests commissioned by the Institute for Investigative Journalism, revealed that the province isn’t collecting all of the samples recommended by Health Canada, and is instead using a testing method that was abandoned by U.S. cities 30 years ago.

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The testing method requires flushing out taps for five minutes before taking a sample, which means it won’t accurately capture lead that has collected overnight in pipes that could be consumed by households when they turn on their taps in the morning.

“I was also asking myself exactly the same question this morning. It doesn’t seem to me like it should be this complicated to do the [right] test,” Legault said, speaking in French.
“So [Quebec Health Minister] Danielle McCann will ensure that municipalities everywhere will do tests correctly… as Health Canada recommends.”

Legault’s comments come one week after he said that his government would also order schools to test their taps properly.

Quebec children at risk of lead exposure through drinking water
Quebec children at risk of lead exposure through drinking water

The government had released a report by medical experts a few months earlier that had also warned that children were at risk from lead from taps in schools and daycares due to poor oversight and the inadequate testing methods.

But last week, a senior official in the provincial environment department defended the Quebec regulation in an interview with Global News, noting that it was meant to allow cities to identify households at the greatest risk of lead contamination.

READ MORE: Edmonton drinking water ‘perfectly safe’ despite pipeline spill into tributary of North Saskatchewan River: EPCOR

Moments after suggesting the province was ready to change its practices, Legault added in English that it wasn’t clear what methods the cities were using and that the government would have to “review” the practices.

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“Regarding municipalities, it’s not clear if the way they measure lead [is] the right one,” he said. “So I think we have to make clear if they [are using] the right measure [of testing for lead in water.]”

Quebec has previously said it would be reviewing its regulations before March 2020, in response to new recommendations made earlier in 2019 by Health Canada.

The government also noted on Wednesday that Quebec Environment Minister Benoit Charette had already sent a letter to all water utility operators over the summer, asking them to start applying Health Canada’s new guideline that recommends drinking water should not have more than five parts per billion of lead.

Health Canada had previously recommended a safety limit of 10 parts per billion, but the new guideline was announced in 2019 following about two years of consultations with the provinces.