Residents living in homes built before 1989 in northern B.C. may be at risk of drinking water with elevated levels of lead, according to Northern Health officials.

The health authority released that statement after it found elevated levels of lead in four Prince Rupert schools last week. 

Northern Health says the water in Prince Rupert schools is safe to drink, but has several suggestions for people who live in houses that have copper or lead piping. 

Here are a few things to keep in mind about lead in drinking water.

Source of lead 

Northern Health says the city of Prince Rupert tests its water regularly and that the city meets the Guidelines for Canadian Drinking Water Quality for lead.

But while the city's water supply may meet the safety standard for lead levels, pipes in older homes may leach lead into the water before it comes out the tap.

Check how old your house is

Homes in B.C. built before 1989 may have copper or lead piping, which makes it more likely that water flowing through those pipes has higher levels of lead, according to Northern Health.

One long-time plumber in Prince Rupert estimates more than half of the city's houses have copper or lead pipes.

"We haven't built any houses for quite a while so there are quite a few old ones," said Bob Gruber, who worked as a plumbing assessor for more than 50 years.

Test your house's water

Take-home water test kits are available in many regions, including Prince Rupert. Residents can bring the water sample to the Northern Health Unit in Prince Rupert for analysis. The test costs $29 and results will be sent back within two to three weeks.  

Flush your water every morning

Health authorities recommend that people leave the water running until it turns cold to ensure water sitting overnight in the pipes is flushed out.

"What public health recommends is to flush your pipes in the morning, first thing when you wake up until the water feels cold," said Dr. Raina Fumerton, Northern Health's northwest chief medical officer.

To listen to the full interview, click the link labelled: Lead and Prince Rupert's water pipes.

With files from George Baker