Lead-contaminated taps in schools a cheap, easy fix, says Montréal Polytechnique expert

It costs just $8 to test a tap or a water fountain for lead contamination, and a Montreal civil engineering professor who studies drinking water says it would be money well spent.

In Montreal, 16% of schools have at least one contaminated tap, study finds

Children frequently exposed to large amounts of lead can lose up to seven IQ points, says a study by INSPQ, Quebec's public health research institute. (Tim Graham/CBC)

It costs just $8 to test a tap or a water fountain for lead contamination, and a Montreal expert on drinking water says it would be money well spent.

"The scientific consensus is clear — no level of exposure is risk-free for children," said Michèle Prévost, a professor of civil engineering at Polytechnique Montréal.

In a study made public last month, Quebec's public health research institute (INSPQ) that found 16 per cent of schools in Montreal have at least one faucet or water fountain contaminated by lead.

Prévost, who worked as an external expert on the study, said fixing the problem is not as hard as people imagine.

She said if a tap or water fountain tests positive for lead, all a school has to do is restrict access to that sink or fountain and then replace it.

"In more than 95 per cent of cases, the problem is in the last 50 centimetres before the tap," she said. She said it's often the faucet or fountain itself that simply needs to be replaced.

"I've found fountains where there's lead in the fountain."

The study notes that the results it presents should be "interpreted with caution" because data was limited.

Despite this, Prévost said that because lead impacts neurological development in children, the risk needs to be taken seriously. 

An increase in lead in children's blood levels could result in an average IQ loss of one to three points — and up to seven points in the case of more frequent exposure, the study notes.

Prévost said that school boards should be transparent with parents about the situation and what is being done.

At the English Montreal School Board, a spokesperson said all the water fountains in EMSB schools are being replaced with filtered water stations which are certified to reduce lead and other contaminants. 

Daniel Smajovits said the process began a few years ago and is continuing.


With files from Radio-Canada


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