Despite tests showing higher levels of lead in water system at Twain Sullivan Elementary (pictured right) in March

High lead reported in the water at Twain

Northern Health says the water at Twain Sullivan Elementary in Houston is safe to drink, despite tests showing elevated lead levels.

  • Wed Apr 27th, 2016 1:00pm
  • News

BY ALICIA BRIDGES

Northern Health says the water at Twain Sullivan Elementary in Houston is safe to drink, despite tests showing elevated lead levels at the school in March.

The Bulkley Valley School District last week confirmed elevated lead levels had been found in the water at Twain Sullivan and the school board building in Smithers.

Testing completed in mid-March showed drinking water at Twain Sullivan contained lead levels of 0.0109 milligrams per litre, higher than Health Canada’s maximum acceptable limit of 0.010 mg/l (10 parts per billion).

Although the BVSD received the results in early April, school staff and students were not notified until last Thursday.

BVSD secretary treasurer Dave Margerm said they were not warned immediately because some of the initial testing was inconclusive.

“If there continues to be lead then we would, as we did today, 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 also started flushing the pipes at problem buildings every morning after the lead was detected.

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. Further testing is ongoing and the school plans to look at longer term solutions to the problem, Margerm added.

Northern Health spokesperson Jonathon Dyck said flushing was an effective mitigation strategy for removing lead from the water.

He said exposure to lead through tap water at the schools was expected to be low because water samples were taken from water that had been sitting stagnant in pipes, which was the “worst case scenario”.

“However, as there is no ‘good’ amount of lead, and as long term exposure could impact growth and development in young children, we always aim to reduce the lead exposure to as low as reasonably possible, especially for pregnant women and young children,” said Dyck.

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 Twain Sullivan’s drinking water had been within the guidelines for lead last time it was tested, some time between 2008 and 2012.

He 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.

Elevated lead levels were found in four Prince Rupert schools in February, prompting NDP calls for province-wide testing.

Northern Health has recommended all schools without recent results get their water tested.

The Ministry of Health said in a statement to Houston Today that overall lead levels in children and adults in B.C. had dropped 70-80 per cent since the 1970s.

“In 2009 and 2010, the BC Centre for Disease Control did a comprehensive review of all blood lead testing results,” said the Ministry.

“Very few cases of high lead levels were found.”

“While there is no ‘safe level of lead’ and lower is better, lead is ubiquitous at low levels in the environment.”  Prince Rupert School District 52 board chairperson Tina Last said lead levels had reduced back within Canadian guidelines at two of the four schools that tested over in February.

Levels are still too high in tap water from the washroom sinks at the Prince Rupert Middle School and Roosevelt Park Community School.

The school district has blocked access to those taps while new lines are installed. Last said the school district had committed to completing the works before the new school year starts in September.