LEAD IN DRINK­ING WA­TER

Vancouver Sun - - CITY - ghoek­stra@post­media.com twit­ter.com/gor­don_hoek­stra lcublert@post­media.com twit­ter.com/loricul­bert

On its web­site, the Lan­g­ley dis­trict, which uses wa­ter from wells, says it tested all its schools for lead in 2015 and the tests came back clear. When the Ed­u­ca­tion Min­istry or­dered this round of tests in 2016, Lan­g­ley worked with Fraser Health to “de­velop a new com­pre­hen­sive test­ing pro­ce­dure.”

So far, all 23 Lan­g­ley re­sults re­vealed low lead lev­els. Tests at the re­main­ing 22 Lan­g­ley schools that were built be­fore 1990 will be done over the next two years.

The dis­trict did not an­swer a ques­tion about how it can be sure the wa­ter is safe at those yet-to-be-tested schools, say­ing only that it is fol­low­ing min­istry poli­cies.

The web­site in­di­cates that if any fu­ture tests show high lead vol­umes, the dis­trict’s im­me­di­ate so­lu­tions in­clude flush­ing the foun­tains or de­ac­ti­vat­ing them.

FLUSH­ING A SHORT-TERM OP­TION

Lan­phear, the SFU pro­fes­sor, said it is good that many dis­tricts are tak­ing such steps as in­stalling fil­ters and re­plac­ing pipes and fix­tures, rather than flush­ing.

He said flush­ing wa­ter through pipes is a tem­po­rary so­lu­tion, not­ing it may only be good for an hour or two, as of­ten time lead con­cen­tra­tions can build up again quite quickly.

Flem­ing, the ed­u­ca­tion min­is­ter, agreed that flush­ing is not a longterm so­lu­tion to re­duce lead in drink­ing wa­ter in schools.

But he said in an in­ter­view that the pro­vin­cial health of­fice has found no ev­i­dence of any chil­dren be­ing harmed by the el­e­vated lead lev­els.

Marc Zubel, drink­ing wa­ter pro­gram man­ager at the Fraser Health Au­thor­ity, said in some cases flush­ing may not be ef­fec­tive, but one can’t draw a con­clu­sion that it’s not go­ing to be good enough in ev­ery case.

But he also said he doesn’t be­lieve all the facts are in on how schools are try­ing to re­duce lead lev­els in wa­ter and whether they are ef­fec­tive. “It would be good to see what all those re­sults are and a sort of a sum­mary of what the schools have been do­ing about it,” said Zubel.

The World Health Or­ga­ni­za­tion has de­clared there is no known level of lead ex­po­sure that is con­sid­ered safe. The U.S. En­vi­ron­men­tal Pro­tec­tion Agency and the U.S. Cen­ters for Dis­ease Con­trol and Preven­tion also say that there is no known safe level of lead in a child’s blood.

Ex­perts and reg­u­la­tors, in­clud­ing in Canada and the U.S., have said that young chil­dren are par­tic­u­larly vul­ner­a­ble to lead be­cause the phys­i­cal and be­havioural ef­fects of lead oc­cur at lower ex­po­sure lev­els in chil­dren than in adults.

In chil­dren, low lev­els of ex­po­sure have been linked to dam­age to the cen­tral and pe­riph­eral ner­vous sys­tems, learn­ing dis­abil­i­ties, shorter stature, im­paired hear­ing and im­paired for­ma­tion and func­tion of blood cells, ac­cord­ing the U.S. En­vi­ron­men­tal and Pro­tec­tion Agency.

Health Canada says the strong­est as­so­ci­a­tion ob­served to date is in­creased lead lev­els in blood in chil­dren and re­duc­tions in in­tel­li­gence quo­tient, or IQ, scores.

Lan­phear said the Cana­dian stan­dard for lead in drink­ing wa­ter of 10 parts per bil­lion was never in­tended as a health stan­dard, and that like other toxic stan­dards, was a bal­ance be­tween sci­en­tific ev­i­dence and what was fea­si­ble to achieve.

He said over time — whether that’s two years or five years — steps should be taken to re­duce the lead in wa­ter to be­low one part per bil­lion, a stan­dard rec­om­mended by the Amer­i­can Acad­emy of Pe­di­atrics.

An anal­y­sis by Post­media of the wa­ter test­ing data sup­plied to the prov­ince showed that if the safe limit was set at even five parts per bil­lion, half the cur­rent stan­dard, the num­ber of B.C. tests that failed would in­crease to 42 per cent from 26.5 per cent.

Dis­trict par­ent ad­vi­sory coun­cils do not seem overly con­cerned about test­ing re­sults and the ap­proach be­ing taken by school dis­tricts.

Karen Tan, pres­i­dent of the Sur­rey Dis­trict Par­ents Ad­vi­sory Coun­cil, said for a short pe­riod of time last year, stu­dents were told not to drink from foun­tains, in­clud­ing at her chil­dren’s school, Williams Wat­son ele­men­tary.

The Sur­rey par­ent ad­vi­sory coun­cil was made aware of lead test­ing be­ing done last year, and told if wa­ter is not safe, foun­tains and sinks would be shut off un­til fixed, she said.

“Of course, there maybe in­con­ve­niences to stu­dents. We, par­ents trust the dis­trict to en­sure that our schools are safe and wa­ter foun­tains are safe to drink from,” said Tan.

Au­drey Smith, the pres­i­dent of the Vic­to­ria Con­fed­er­a­tion of Par­ent Ad­vi­sory Coun­cils, noted the Greater Vic­to­ria school dis­trict is ad­dress­ing the prob­lem.

Many par­ents send wa­ter bot­tles to school with their chil­dren, said Smith. “Old build­ings have old pipes. In Vic­to­ria, that means lead pipes un­less the build­ing has had an ex­ten­sive ren­o­va­tion. That isn’t in the bud­get, so fil­ters are the an­swer for now,” said Smith.

She added the con­fed­er­a­tion was not aware of any par­ents un­happy with the re­sponse from its dis­trict, since the lead lev­els were mea­sured.

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