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Education Department publishes test results, reveals schools with lead in drinking water

A sign warns people not to drink the water on a fountain at the hospital in Walkerton, Ont. Wednesday May 24, 2000. As the May long weekend approached 20 years ago, an invisible killer began stalking the unsuspecting town of Walkerton, Ont., preparing to unleash an epidemic that would damage or destroy many lives. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Kevin Frayer

Nova Scotia’s Education Department has published test results revealing which of the province’s schools have a problem with lead in their drinking water.

The information was posted online Wednesday afternoon — the last day the province could release it before missing its own deadline for a second time.

The critical health and safety data was due to be made public when the school year resumed, but at the beginning of September, Education Minister Zach Churchill revised his commitment to the end of the month.

The test results for 370 schools across the province are now contained in alphabetical order on eight separate lists, one for each regional centre for education.

READ MORE: Education Department misses target date on lead database for Nova Scotia school water

The series of lists falls short of Churchill’s initial promise, which was to create a centralized online database containing all of the test results. Data from test results in previous years have also not been posted on the web page.

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Churchill was not immediately available to comment on this story.

Lead is a dangerous neurotoxin that poses serious health risks to developing brains. In children, exposure is linked to lowered IQ, developmental disorders, and ADHD.

Last year, an investigation by Global News and the Star Halifax revealed that in the past 10 years, at least 24 schools in Nova Scotia have had lead levels exceeding Health Canada’s current limit of five parts per billion.

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Education Department misses target date on lead database for Nova Scotia school water – Sep 4, 2020

That series, carried out in partnership with Concordia University’s Institute for Investigative Journalism, the University of King’s College and other media and academic partners, also found that before last fall, nearly 60 per cent of Nova Scotia schools — 220 out of 370 — had never tested their taps for lead at all.

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Those schools relied on municipal water systems, which conduct their own periodic testing, but never inside school property.

READ MORE: Lead in Nova Scotia school water — a patchwork of data unavailable to parents, teachers

Prior to the publication of results on Wednesday, the presence of contaminants in Nova Scotia school water was shrouded in secrecy. Unlike Ontario, Nova Scotia did not require all daycares and schools to test their taps for lead and publish the results.

Only rural schools connected to wells, such as Scotsburn Elementary School in Pictou County, were required to test regularly for the neurotoxin.

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N.S. UARB approves Halifax Water’s proposal to replace lead pipes for free – Aug 27, 2020

The 2019 investigation found that of the 119 lead tests conducted in Scotsburn since 2009, 111 exceeded Health Canada’s current limit, with results reaching as high as 65 parts per billion.

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While students and staff had been told not to drink the water in that school for several years, not all parents and teachers knew why.

READ MORE: Thousands of Nova Scotians at risk of lead exposure from wells

After the publication of the Tainted Water series, Churchill committed to providing bottled water to 324 schools across the province, while lead testing took place in 284 schools that had not been tested, and 40 schools whose tests had produced unsafe results.

Bottled water, or jugs of water continue to be provided in many schools across the province, both as a precaution during the COVID-19 pandemic, and while lead exceedances persist in several of schools.

More to come. 

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