Montreal

Quebec orders schools to test water fountains for lead

Education Minister Jean-François Roberge said as soon as a source of water is deemed inadequate, he wants it to be off-limits.

As soon as a source of water is deemed inadequate, it should be off-limits, says education minister

Education Minister Jean-François Roberge said he wants the tests to be done as quickly as possible, but did not set a deadline. (Jacques Boissinot/Canadian Press)

Quebec's education minister is ordering every public and private school in the province to test the drinking water for lead.

Jean-François Roberge said as soon as a source of water is deemed inadequate, he wants it to be off-limits.

"No compromises will be made when it comes to safety of students," he said.

Roberge wants the tests to be done as quickly as possible, but did not set a deadline. At the moment, the government does not foresee creating a special budget to pay for the tests.

The directive is the latest development in a story that first came to light in the summer, when Quebec's public health research institute (INSPQ) made public a study that found 16 per cent of schools in Montreal have at least one faucet or water fountain contaminated by lead.

This week, a report published in La Presse corroborated those findings. The newspaper enlisted the help of Université de Montréal's chemistry department and collected a water sample from 24 elementary schools in the Montreal area.

The samples were tested at the university's lab, and four of them surpassed levels recommended by Health Canada.

Sébastien Sauvé, the environmental chemistry professor who did the tests, said while the majority of the schools are within the guidelines, it's problematic that some are not.

He said every water source in a school should be tested because contamination levels vary, and that it is relatively simple and inexpensive to test for lead.

"I know that all schools' budgets are relatively tight, but spending a few hundred dollars in making sure that water fountains are OK is something all schools can do," he told CBC Montreal's Daybreak.

Sauvé said the science on the topic is "crystal clear" — lead exposure in childhood has been linked to intellectual development issues.

A spokesperson for the English Montreal School Board said in the summer that all the water fountains in that board's schools are being replaced with filtered water stations which are certified to reduce lead and other contaminants. 

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