Tests spark concern
Lead levels higher in many area schools than some health experts would like to see
Schools throughout northeastern Ontario have failed the lead test.
An Oct. 6 report by the Toronto Star (tinyurl.com/y72g3kfg) indicates that over two years of testing, 22 schools within the region have had more lead in their drinking water than officials deem acceptable.
The province has a threshold of 10 parts per billion; however, “a federal-provincial-territorial committee is currently considering whether to lower the drinking water standard for lead to five parts per billion, which is half the existing standard.”
According to Bruce Lanphear, a health sciences professor at Simon Fraser University in British Columbia and an expert on toxins in children, five parts per billion is “more in line with the latest scientific evidence,” the Toronto Star said in its report.
More than 20 schools in three of Sudbury’s four school boards had levels of lead higher than five parts per billion.
Eight schools from the Rainbow District School Board had lead levels that tested higher than five parts per billion — Charles C. McLean Public School in Gore Bay; Chelmsford Valley District Composite School; Churchill Public School; Confederation Secondary School in Val Caron; Larchwood Public School in Dowling; Levack Public School; S. Geiger Public School in Massey; and Webbwood Public School.
Drinking water from 11 schools from the Conseil Scolaire Catholique Du Nouvel-Ontario exceeded acceptable levels of lead, including College Notre Dame; Champlain in Chelmsford; É.s.c. Franco-Ouest in Espanola; George Vanier in Lively; Ecole Notre-Dame De La Merci in Coniston; Ecole Saint-Joseph Blind River; École St-Antoine in Noelville; Ecole St-Charles Borromee in St. Charles; École St-Paul in Lively; École St-Thomas in Warren; and École Ste-Thérèse in Val Therese.
Two schools from the Sudbury Catholic District School Board — St. Francis School and St. Joseph School in Killarney – had water that tested higher than five parts per billion.
Water taken from the Montessori School of Sudbury also tested at 10.6 parts per billion (standing water).
It is important to note that many of the samples were taken from standing water — water that had sat in pipes for at least six hours. Only samples taken from St. Joseph School (6.58 parts per billion), Confederation Secondary (6.1810.9 parts per billion), Larchwood PS (5.63 parts per billion) and Ecole Saint-Joseph Blind River (7.83 parts per billion) showed lead levels higher than five parts per billion in flushed water.
“When they take a sample, they need to take two samples,” Burgess Hawkins, manager of the environmental health division at the Sudbury and District Health Unit, said Thursday. “One is a standing sample ... Once they take that sample they let the water run for a specific period of time, then they take a sample that is known as the flushed sample. Most of the results we get, if there’s an exceedance, is in that standing sample. When there’s an exceedance in the standing sample, they need to flush that faucet or fountain daily to make sure the water’s been flushed through it.”
The water is flushed before school, before any children arrive for the day.
“If there are no fixtures that rate above 10, then they flush once a week, after the weekend,” Hawkins said. “By giving it a flush in the morning, you’re taking the water that has had the lead contamination and basically sending it down the drain. The stuff behind that has not had the lead contamination, otherwise it would have shown up as a flushed sample.”
During the day, water is flowing through the system, since toilets are fountains are frequently used, Hawkins said.
The Rainbow District School Board has prepared a fact sheet for parents. In it, they say they monitor lead levels closely.
“If a child care centre or school gets a drinking water test result that is above the standard for lead, the local medical officer of health will assign corrective actions
to the facility and it is the facility’s responsibility to ensure those actions are
carried out,” they wrote. “The Ministry of the Environment and Climate Change will follow up with the facility operator and local medical officer of health if necessary. These local processes have been in place since 2007 and are working well.”
Flushing is beneficial for removing lead from water.
“Flushing has been shown to reduce lead levels in drinking water fixtures. By flushing plumbing and fixtures, water that may have come in contact with lead plumbing is replaced with fresh water,” the RDSB wrote. “How often a facility has to flush their plumbing and fixtures depends on several factors including the age of the plumbing, previous lead test results or if a device that removes lead, such as a filter, has been installed on a fixture.”
Lead is a concern for many reasons.
“Lead is a toxic metal,” Hawkins said. “Normally the effects are seen after prolonged exposure to small amounts.”
Because of their smaller body mass, children absorb lead more easily than do adults. The metal can cause a number of issues.
“It can cause gastrointestinal symptoms, so diarrhea, upset stomach, etc.,” Hawkins said. “It can cause muscular issues but the key concern is as a potential neurotoxin, where basically it affects development, especially of the brain.”
Schools are required to test all water fixtures annually. Results are forwarded to the Ministry of the Environment and Climate Change. If results are normal for three years, the systems are flushed weekly. But if there are exceedances, they are flushed daily.
Michel Seguin, the facilities manager for the Conseil Scolaire Catholique Du Nouvel-Ontario, said his school board has been testing water in each school since 2007.
“There is no flushed sample that is above 10,” he said. His school board adheres to 10 parts per billion of lead.
Carlee Vendramin, a communications officer with the Sudbury Catholic District School Board, said administrators will be discussing the issue at next week’s board meeting.
“This issue is currently on the agenda for our next board meeting happening on Tuesday, Oct. 17 at 6 p.m. A formal report to the trustees regarding affected schools will be given at this time,” she said. “Board meetings occur at the Sudbury Catholic District School Board and are open to the public.”