A majority of public schools in Abbotsford and Mission use water with lead above a recently adjusted threshold set by Health Canada.
In March 2019, Health Canada halved the acceptable amount of lead concentration in water from .01 to .005 mg/L, putting 25 out of 34 schools in Abbotsford, and 14 out of 16 schools in Mission, over the limit.
The Abbotsford School District is now contracting an independent laboratory to test all of the schools that failed the water test and locate any contaminated water sources, according to the district’s manager of communications, Kayla Stuckart.
“Staff will be taking action at each of the affected school sites to ensure the drinking water for students and staff is only available from fountains and sinks with water quality meeting health standards,” Stuckart said.
Barrowtown Elementary had the highest recorded lead concentration in Abbotsford at 50 per cent above the limit, while Mission’s École des Deux-Rives had the highest recorded levels out of both districts at 100 per cent above.
The failing 25 schools in Abbotsford exceeded the new limit by an average 19.6 per cent. The scope of the lead contamination in Mission is significantly worse with their 14 failing schools averaging 54.6 per cent over.
Lead exposure can have serious health consequences in children. Their bodies absorb lead four to five times more than adults, which can lead to irreversible brain and behavioural disorders, according to the World Health Organization.
The Abbotsford School District randomly tested their pre-1990 buildings at the request of the provincial government in 2016 and found 58 per cent had a lead concentration higher than 0.01 mg/L in “pre-flush” water.
The district hired an outside consulting group in 2016, which categorized all the district’s schools into risk levels: 18 of the schools were designated safe, seven required moderate repairs and 10 required more significant repairs.
B.C.’s Ministry of Education approved $840,000 to the district to mitigate the levels, and the repairs were made later that year.
But with the new levels set by Health Canada, eight of those schools previously designated as safe in 2016 – which includes Barrowtown Elementary– are now over the limit. Nine out of the 10 schools which had significant repairs still exceed the limit.
The problem of lead in public school water is not exclusive to Abbotsford and Mission. Around 45 per cent of all public schools in the province failed at least one water test between 2016 and 2019, according to data from the Ministry of Education.
The schools which failed water tests are listed below with their percentage above the Health Canada limit.
Barrowtown Elementary – 50%
Mt Lehman Elementary – 37.5%
Godson Elementary – 33.3%
Dormick Park Elementary – 33.3%
Centennial Park Elementary – 30%
Wj Mouat Secondary – 27.8%
Aberdeen Elementary – 25%
Start Technologies – 25%
John Maclure Elementary – 20%
Wa Fraser Middle – 16.7%
Abbotsford Art Center – 16.7%
Clearbrook Elementary – 16.7%
Abbotsford Virtual School – 16.7%
Dr Thomas A Swift Elementary – 16.7%
Prince Charles Elementary – 16.7%
Center For Resources For Education – 16.7%
South Poplar Elementary – 16.7%
Bakerview Center For Learning – 14.3%
Asia North Poplar Elementary – 12.5%
Ross Elementary – 12.5%
Aboriginal Education Center – 12.5%
Upper Sumas Elementary – 12.5%
École Les Deux Rives – 100%
Albert Mcmahon Elementary – 83.3%
Dewdney Elementary – 78.6%
Fraserview Elementary – 70%
Hatzic Middle School – 64.3%
Hatzic Elementary – 62.5%
West Heights Elementary – 60%
E.S. Richards Elementary – 44.4%
Silverdale Elementary – 44.4%
Cherry Hill Elementary – 40%
Hillside Elementary – 33.3%
Mission Secondary – 30.4%
Mission Central Elementary – 28.6%
Ferndale Elementary – 25%