Twain Sullivan Elementary in Houston is the latest northwest B.C. school to test positive for excessive lead in its drinking water, after elevated levels of the heavy metal were detected at four schools in Prince Rupert in February.
Testing completed in mid-March showed drinking water at Twain Sullivan contained lead levels of 0.0109 milligrams per litre, which is higher than Health Canada’s maximum acceptable limit of 0.010 mg/l (10 parts per billion).
The Bulkley Valley School District 54 (BVSD) school board building in Smithers has also tested positive for elevated lead levels.
School district employees were notified this morning and letters will be sent home to parents this afternoon.
Although the BVSD received the results in early April, secretary treasurer Dave Margerm said staff and parents were not warned immediately because some of the initial testing was inconclusive.
“After the next battery of tests show more lead or equal amounts, or inconsistent amounts, we would then advise the employees and the parents, which was done today,” he said.
Margerm said the school district also started flushing the pipes at problem buildings every morning after the lead was detected. Further testing of post-flushing tests is ongoing, he added.
Flushing is used to remove lead that could have collected in pipes built with lead solder, which was allowed to be used in B.C. until 1989.
A follow-up test after flushing at Twain Sullivan reported 0.0044 mg/l from the same water source, which is within Canadian guidelines, but Margerm said the results had been inconsistent.
“We ran multiple tests and some tests of the same source of water show over, and the next time they showed under, so there’s several inconsistencies in the system at Twain,” he said.
“That is why we are doing multiple tests to try and come up with whether there is an issue, just to be sure before we plan for what we are going to do in the future.
“That being said, there is traces of lead in the water so we have to deal with that.”
Margerm said the school district did regular water quality testing at its buildings, but the latest round of testing in March had been ordered by the Ministry of Education, via the Provincial Health Officer.
He believed it was in response to the lead found in drinking water at four Prince Rupert schools in February.
Elevated lead and copper levels were also detected at four schools in Kitimat in 2012.
Margerm said Twain Sullivan’s drinking water had been within the Canadian guidelines for lead last time it was tested, some time between 2008 and 2012.
According to Health Canada, even small amounts of lead can be dangerous to children, infants and pregnant women.
Long-term exposure to lead can also increase the risk of damage to the nervous system or kidneys, increased blood pressure and anemia, among other health effects.
Read the full story, including more from Northern Health and Health Minister Terry Lake, in the April 27 edition of The Interior News.