A local school board wants to reassure the public about the state of water quality in the wake of an explosive nationwide investigative series shining a light on the amount of lead in drinking water across Canada.
The year-long investigation involving multiple media outlets, including Global News and Concordia University’s Institute for Investigative Journalism, has revealed that hundreds of thousands of Canadians, including many children in schools and daycares, are exposed to dangerous levels of lead in their tap water.
According to lead test results obtained from the Ontario government from April 2016 to March 2018, nearly 100 schools and daycares within the Middlesex-London region had at least one published lead test that exceeded the federal safety recommendation of five parts per billion (ppb).
Ontario has not yet updated its regulations to reflect the new Health Canada guideline, adopted earlier this year.
However, Thames Valley District School Board (TVDSB) manager of facility services Chris Yeo stresses that the board follows provincial regulations under the Ontario Safe Drinking Water Act.
“We are regulated to 10 parts per billion, and that’s what our testing and sampling is to follow.”
Speaking on London Live with Mike Stubbs on Global News Radio 980 CFPL on Tuesday, the City of London’s manager of water quality Dan Huggins noted that schools do not have lead pipes but solder before 1990 and brass fixtures before 2014 did contain “appreciable amounts of lead.”
However, the sheer size of schools and the fact that they sit empty for so long provide challenges.
“When water’s sitting in those pipes and touching that brass, it’s dissolving lead and pulling it into the water. We’re only talking small amounts, but it’s these small amounts that are of concern,” Huggins explained.
“The reason schools present a unique problem is they’ve got a lot of plumbing, they’ve got big-diameter pipes and they sit empty for long periods of time — from the time the kids leave in the afternoon until they’re back the next morning, that water’s just sitting there, all weekend long.”
A statement from the TVDSB explains that it conducts a “comprehensive maintenance program to ensure safe drinking water” that includes daily and weekly flushing, annual sampling and testing from third-party consultants, and mandatory reporting to the Ministry of Environment, Conservation and Parks.
“If we see adverse results, it may result in the fixture being replaced or potentially decommissioned,” Yeo added. “And if it is replaced, it’s replaced, obviously, with the newer fixture and then it’s retested.”
Schools are mandated to have two years of water testing results available in the building, and Yeo says further results can be found online.
Huggins, meanwhile, added that children today are exposed to five to 10 times less lead than children in the 1960s.
“We’ve done such a tremendous job, it’s really a success story, the amount of lead exposure we’ve diminished over the decades. There’s still lead in drinking water and we’re working away to minimize that as well.”
Scientists say that there is no safe level of lead and that any amount can be harmful, especially for children.