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.”

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