In SD83 schools you may notice that some water fountains may have signage saying “please run for 60 seconds before drinking”, the fountain may be blocked off, or taps may be labeled “not potable water”. This is because the standards set by Health Canada for the allowable amount of lead in drinking water have recently decreased from .01 milligrams per litre to .005 milligrams per litre (mg/L) and SD83 staff are working diligently to ensure our district meets the new standard.
Manager of Facilities and Grounds Glynn Warnica comments Operations staff have about one-third of the schools in district completed to the new standard and plan on having the rest of the schools done over the next few weeks.
He explains for a number of years now the lead levels in school’s water has been tested on a three year cycle, which aligns with the Ministry of Education’s policy and guidelines established in September of 2016. The first test is done on water that has sat overnight. The second test is after the water been run for 60 seconds.
With the new standard, if the water has greater than the .005 mg/L of lead when it sits overnight, but is lower than the .005 mg/L after the water has been run for 60 seconds, a sign will be posted to tell users to run the water for a minimum of 60 seconds before drinking. If the water fails the second test, further mitigation is necessary. This means some drinking fountains may be labelled as ‘Not in Use’ for now and some taps may be labelled “not potable water”.
Warnica explains that often the reason for the failure is lead in the fixture or the solder at the fixture. To fix this, the district would need to change every fixture at every affected school and hope there is no lead in the solder joints in pipes leading to the tap.
As this would be a large expense, SD83 is currently looking at putting water bottle filling stations in the schools and then adding additional filters in school kitchens to ensure drinking water in cooking sites also meet the new standards. For example, at Highland Park several water fountains were deactivated and two water bottle filling stations been installed.
For further information about testing lead in drinking water please go to Guidelines for Canadian Drinking Water Quality by Health Canada. The guideline is designed to protect pregnant women, infants and children as they are the most vulnerable. It is based on average concentrations in water consumed for extended periods.
If you have any further health-based questions around this issue please contact Interior Health.