An independent review of lead levels in Winnipeg soil says the risk of exposure is low, but also found blood lead levels in children in three neighbourhoods are likely above safe standards.
The study, ordered by the province of Manitoba, looked at neighbourhoods identified as being of potential concern including Centennial, Daniel MacIntyre, Point Douglas, and Wolseley.
While it found lead levels are declining over time in Winnipeg, the report also noted predicted blood lead levels for children seven and under living in North Point Douglas and Weston were above the level of concern of two micrograms per decilitre.
Predicted blood lead levels were also above the level of concern for kids between the ages of six months and four years living in the Daniel MacIntyre neighbourhood, the report said.
The report says children aged seven and under are most sensitive to the effects of lead because their nervous systems are still developing.
At a press conference Wednesday, Manitoba’s chief provincial public health officer, Dr. Brent Roussin, downplayed the blood lead level findings and reiterated the report’s finding that risk of exposure to lead in soil is minimal.
“We know that those factors that led to those levels are not with us anymore,” he said.
“Lead in soil is just one way to be exposed to lead and given the information out in this scientific literature … that poses a relatively low risk.
Those actions include making sure blood lead levels are reportable under the Public Health Act and developing a communications plan to deliver messages about how to mitigate risks.
Lead contamination around Weston School
Lead levels in soil have been a concern in some Winnipeg neighbourhoods for several years, including in the Weston neighbourhood, where students and staff were banned from using the sports field at Weston School due to lead contamination in 2018.
When asked whether or not it would be safe for children at Weston School to play in the school’s field in the summer months when the ground thaws, Roussin said yes.
He said the province is working with the school division to institute recommendations made in the report for the school, including the removal of sand and gravel from the playground area and making sure exposed soil around the school is covered with mulch or sod.
While the report noted the number of soil samples collected by investigators was lacking, Roussin said the province has no immediate plans for further sampling.
He also said the province is reviewing the report’s recommendation for a biomonitoring study in some city neighbourhoods to better understand lead exposure of residents, especially children.
Roussin said such surveys can be difficult because all aspects of exposure — including levels found in and around the home — would need to be investigated.
“It can be invasive to try to find out all of this information if it’s going to be useful,” he said.
Meanwhile, the province is reminding the public to take precautions to prevent contact with lead-impacted soil.
That includes avoiding ingestion of soil, preventing children from eating soil, and washing hands after working with soil.
Those living in homes with lead service lines, lead solder or fixtures containing lead in their plumbing systems should also take steps to reduce exposure.
— With files from Diana Foxall