NDP blasts Ford government over inaction on lead-laced drinking water in schools, daycares

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WATCH: Ontario NDP call for action from Ford government over high lead levels in drinking water at Ontario schools and daycares.

Ontario NDP Leader Andrea Horwath slammed Premier Doug Ford’s Progressive Conservative government for failing to take action after a massive investigation revealed more than 2,400 schools and daycares in the province exceeded the current federal guideline for lead in drinking water over the past two years.

“The results are beyond disturbing,” Horwath said Wednesday during question period at Queen’s Park. “Parents of students in schools where dangerous lead has been found have been kept in the dark.

“Will the premier commit today then, Mr. Speaker, to being proactive and transparent with parents in Ontario about lead in their children’s schools and daycares?”

Environment Minister Jeff Yurek answered for the Ford government, saying there were ongoing discussions with the Ministry of Education about how to better inform parents when the water tested at a school or daycare exceeds the current federal limit for lead, which is currently at five parts per billion (ppb).

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READ MORE: Drinking water at thousands of Ontario schools, daycares have dangerous lead levels

“In 2017, the Ministry of Education sent a letter to all school boards throughout the province [saying] that they should look at sending those results to schools if there are bad tests,” Yurek said. “Some have complied and some have not. I’ve spoken with the minister of education to look to how we can remedy this situation going forward. We know we can do better.”

A year-long investigation from Global News, the Toronto Star, Concordia University’s Institute for Investigative Journalism and others found nine per cent of all lead tests in schools and daycares exceeded the national lead guideline during the 2016-17 and 2017-18 school years, according to an analysis of provincial test result data.

The figure was a 275 per cent jump from two years ago due to increased testing and tougher federal lead limits.

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The reporting found 29 per cent of schools and daycares had at least one exceedance and around two dozen reported samples higher than 1,000 ppb — a level experts say can immediately impact blood-lead levels in a child.

READ MORE: What do you do if you find lead in your tap water in Canada?

Ontario’s lead limit currently sits at 10 ppb, but Health Canada lowered its recommended guideline to five ppb earlier this year. Both Health Canada and the World Health Organization say no amount of lead is known to be safe.

Yurek said Tuesday that his ministry was reviewing whether it would match the federal regulation.

While the testing data is available on a provincial website, the reporting found a lack of direct warnings to students, parents and teachers.

READ MORE: Investigation into lead in Canada’s drinking water spurs calls for action across country

Throughout question period, NDP MPPs grilled the Ford government over how it plans to remedy the widespread problem.

“This is a major problem across Ontario. It’s not just isolated schools,” said NDP House Leader and Timmins MPP Gilles Bisson. “When are you going to provide [the schools] with the dollars to fix the water so our children and others aren’t at risk?”
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The reporting, released Tuesday, found that Timmins High and Vocational School with the District School Board Ontario North East, had the most lead exceedances of any one school with 67 — 56 per cent of all tests. One test was 497 ppb in 2017, nearly 100 times the national guideline.

Yurek said the issue of lead in water “was not created overnight.”

“We want to work together, Mr. Speaker. We are putting over half a billion dollars into our school systems,” he said. “We look forward to working with the school systems to fix those lead pipes.”

— With files from the Toronto Star