British Columbia

Prince Rupert schools using bottled water until copper levels confirmed to meet standards

"The water has not changed, but the limits that we're allowed to have for our staff and students have changed," said Prince Rupert School Board chair James Horne.

Health Canada cut the amount of lead and copper allowed in drinking water last March

'The water has not changed, but the limits that we're allowed to have for our staff and students have changed,' said James Horne, board of education chair for School District 52. (AP Photo/Paul Sancya)

The school district in Prince Rupert has issued a notice that for the time being, all students and staff will be provided bottled water following recent tests showing copper levels found in the water at local schools does not meet new standards.

In March, Health Canada updated its guidelines for the amount of lead and copper allowed in drinking water, cutting the amount of heavy metals permitted.

"The water has not changed, but the limits that we're allowed to have for our staff and students have changed," said  Prince Rupert School Board chair James Horne.

"Upon the last round of testing in October, we discovered we no longer met the new standard of Health Canada for both lead and copper."

This isn't the first time that schools in Prince Rupert have had issues with water. In 2016, the district discovered that the level of lead found in the drinking water did not meet the standards set by Health Canada.

At that point, some of the water fountains were already being replaced, and those ones met the lead standards at the time. 

However, the older ones tested too high, so the district worked closely with the Northern Health Authority to make sure they were in compliance and replaced the taps and the remaining older water fountains in schools. 

Since then, the district has increased the frequency of their water tests from every three years to once a year, added Horne.

After finding too much copper and lead during October's test, the district increased flushing in schools using an automatic flushing system. That lowered the levels of lead in schools to an acceptable level — but not copper.

"[Northern Health has] told us to now institute a bottled water system in all of our schools, which we've started doing already, until they can confirm that we can meet the copper standard," said Horne.

Old schools

"Our schools are not new. This is an infrastructure issue," said the education board chair, adding that the copper is coming from the piping system. 

The district is looking into several options including either replacing the lines or upgrading the filtration system, or changing the pH of the water.

"Whatever it takes to make the world safe for our staff and our students," said Horne.

In the interim, there are signs on taps and fountains telling students and staff to use water provided from 20 litre jugs with pumps on them. 

However, he added that the water itself has not changed, so from that point of view, he is not worried.

"But to keep ourselves compliant within the new standard of Health Canada, clearly we have to change what we're doing within our schools."

With files from Daybreak North

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