New measures are being taken to keep students safe, after nearly two-thirds of Abbotsford schools tested returned higher-than-acceptable levels of lead in drinking water.
Beginning in July, the school district began evaluating the quality of water coming from taps and drinking fountains at all of its buildings built before 1990, at the request of the provincial government.
A random portion of those tests have been reported back, with results from 21 of 36 schools indicating higher-than-acceptable lead levels in “pre-flush” water – stagnant water that has been sitting in the pipes.
Schools implementing “pre-flush” procedures: Abbotsford Arts, the old section of Abbotsford Senior, Aberdeen, Aboriginal Education, Bakerview, Centennial, Chief Dan George, CORE, John Maclure, Mt. Lehman, North Poplar, Ross, South Poplar, School Board Office, STaRT, Ten Broeck, Terry Fox, Upper Sumas, Virtual, W.A. Fraser, and W.J. Mouat.
While the district works on a permanent plan to deal with the problem (which could involve new pipes, filtration or automatic flushing devices) school staff have been instructed to “flush” drinking water sources first thing every morning by running such taps.
Prince Rupert schools had lead-filtering fountains installed recently.
Signs have also been posted by faucets in many bathrooms and labs indicating that they are not safe for drinking.
“It is important to note that these faucets are safe for washing hands, but we do not want students drinking out of them while testing is ongoing,” said district spokesperson Kayla Stuckart in an email.
Faucets and fountains for drinking water have signs next to them indicating whether they must be run for two minutes before drinking, or if they have been shut off due to continued elevated levels found “post-flush.”
Temporary water coolers have been set up in some schools to ensure students have access to the water they need, Stuckart said.
It is believed that the source of lead in the water is a compound used to solder copper pipes which were installed in schools prior to 1989.
“It is important to recognize that there are no lead pipes in the Abbotsford School District water system,” a page on the district’s website reads. “But like most buildings older than 1989, there is lead in the solder.”
Public health officers have met with district officials and are “very pleased with the mitigation plan in place,” according to Fraser Health spokesperson Tasleem Juma.
Despite the fact that there were schools with fountains providing water with lead levels above acceptable margins by government standards, it is highly unlikely any student was at serious risk for illness, said Juma.
But if parents have concerns about their children’s health, they are encouraged to see a doctor.
Higher-than-acceptable lead levels have been found at dozens of schools throughout the province, including in Prince Rupert, where the district installed lead-filtering drinking fountains.