British Columbia

Lead in Prince Rupert schools no cause for alarm, says health authority

Elevated levels of lead have been found in the drinking water of some B.C. schools in Prince Rupert, parents learned from district officials.

'Elevated levels of lead' were found in 4 schools

The proposed legislation comes after four Prince Rupert schools were discovered to have elevated levels of lead in their drinking water. (Getty Images)

Elevated levels of lead have been found in the drinking water of some B.C. schools in Prince Rupert, parents learned Wednesday from district officials.

In a letter to parents, the district says it is working with the health authority to address "levels of lead that are higher than Health Canada recommended levels" in Conrad Elementary, Pineridge Elementary, Ecole Roosevelt Park Community School, and Prince Rupert Middle School.

Staff are taking the temporary measure of flushing the water system regularly to ensure students do not consume water that has been standing in pipes overnight.

"We've gone into a remediation plan to flush the water systems every morning," said Sandra Jones, superintendent of school district 52.

Eventually, the district may install automatic flushing systems, she said.

But the district says the water at school is safe to drink.

"We are absolutely guaranteeing that the water children will drink will be flushed and of the correct standard."

The district tested 23 samples from water fountains and classroom sinks at schools built prior to 1989 and found 48 per cent of them showed "elevated levels of lead."

In a factsheet sent to parents, Northern Health says lead exposure can lead to health issues, but there are other contributing factors, such as frequency, duration, dose of exposure, age, and nutrition.

'As low as reasonably possible'

Water is only one potential source out of many for lead exposure and parents need not be alarmed by the letter sent home on Tuesday, said a Northern Health spokesperson.

"This is nothing necessarily new or particularly alarming in terms of urgency," said Raina Fumerton, medical health officer with the health authority.

"With regards to drinking water, generally speaking, it is a lower contributor to our overall exposure from lead from all different kinds of sources."

She says the health authority will continue working with the school to lower lead levels in schools.

"There's no safe or good level of lead, so in public health, we're always trying to get those levels down as low as reasonably possible."

Mandatory testing

But Jennifer Rice, MLA for North Coast, says this issue should have been addressed years ago.

"We suspect that this problem has been going on for a long time, because the issue is related to the age of pipes. So why weren't they testing and reporting for the last couple of decades?"

She is calling on authorities to implement mandatory checks on drinking water quality at schools.

"Ultimately what I'd really like to see is that there be mandatory testing of our schools, across our province."

To listen to the full interview, click the link labelled: Lead in Prince Rupert schools no cause for alarm says health authority.

With files from Betsy Trumpener


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