Abbotsford schools to be tested for lead in drinking water

Testing plans can’t be finalized until education ministry develops a standardized way of gathering data

Education minister Mike Bernier

Education minister Mike Bernier

The Abbotsford school district is planning to comply with a provincial education ministry edict that demands annual testing for lead contamination in school drinking water, but work can’t begin until the provincial government explains how the water quality data should be collected. Abbotsford school district communications manager Dave Stephen said a preliminary plan to test school water supplies this summer was being developed, but the district will now “await the standardized guidelines from the ministry before conducting any tests, to ensure we provide exactly the information they request.”

A message from the office of education minister Mike Bernier to the district said the provincial education ministry “will compile the results (of the tests for possible lead contamination) and we will develop standard questions so that information received from districts is consistent.”

Once that’s been sorted out, Stephen said the district will test the water in all Abbotsford schools built before 1990.

That’s because solder used in water pipes before then could contain lead. There are 35 (out of 46) schools of that age still in operation in the Abbotsford school district.

Two Abbotsford schools have already been tested for lead contamination at the urging of their Parent Advisory Councils: Abbotsford traditional secondary, which was tested this year, and Prince Charles elementary, which was tested a few years previously.

In both cases, lead levels were found to be below the “maximum acceptable concentrations.”

The tests were ordered before news broke that roughly one in four B.C. school districts has reported elevated levels of lead in their drinking water.

An education ministry statement to The News said, in many cases, the elevated lead reports were “isolated incidents in limited numbers of schools – such as a single fountain, or part of a school.”

The statement said, in every case, districts have fixed the problem, either by replacing drinking fountains or implementing a flushing program.

The ministry said it expects all school districts to test drinking water for lead or explain why testing isn’t needed.

It will ask districts “specific questions, provide a deadline, have them report back on any problems they find, and any mitigation.”

Mission school district assistant superintendent Randy Huth said they are developing a program to test school drinking water in response to the ministry directive.

Currently, Huth said three of the 16 schools in the district are already being tested once a year for lead contamination because they are on well water. None has ever gone over the acceptable limits.