Nfld. & Labrador

Lead was never an issue in drinking water, MUN says

Memorial University says it mistakenly believed there were high levels of lead in its drinking water last week, after water testing wasn't carried out properly.

University originally ordered inappropriate tests

MUN officials say that there is no lead in the water that people will actually drink. (Laura Howells/CBC)

Memorial University says it mistakenly believed there were high levels of lead in the campus drinking water, after water testing wasn't carried out properly.  

The university, which temporarily closed its St. John's campus last week, said drinking water in the engineering and music buildings was never a danger. 

Kent Decker, MUN's VP of finance, said the university will start doing regular tests on all its drinking water. (CBC)

The university sent water samples to a lab in Nova Scotia, and has since received results for 38 of the 55 buildings on campus. 

While high levels of lead were found at some locations, MUN says those instances were all in areas where the water had not yet gone through a filter.

Water samples taken from fountains and taps accessed by students and staff all came back clear. 

"If you want to find lead you can, but the drinking water is safe and I have absolutely no difficulty confirming that," said David Allison, Eastern Health's medical officer.

"The taps that were sampled in those situations were not places where you would go to collect drinking water."

University at fault

Kent Decker, MUN's vice president of finance, said the university is to blame for ordering inappropriate tests.

"We directed them where to take the tests. That was our fault," he said.

MUN will continue providing water bottles to those on campus until all tests come back clear. (CBC)

In the meantime, until all tests are completed, bottled water will be provided to students and staff, and water warnings will remain posted on campus.

While the university has yet to comment on how often its drinking water is tested, Decker said it's working to dig out that information. 

He also said the university is committed to regularly testing its drinking water in the future.

"We will have a process in place that will test all water in all buildings on a regular basis and will get reported to the university's health and safety committee," he said.

"There will be a pretty regular process after this."

Lead levels a long-standing issue 

Decker said lead has also been an issue in two buildings on campus, Queen's College and St. John's College, for the past 20 years.

Those lead levels, said MUN, are due to old piping in the buildings and the university has not taken steps to solve the problem. It has, instead, been providing bottled drinking water for the past two decades. 

About the Author

Laura Howells is a reporter and producer from St. John's who is now working in Toronto and Hamilton. You can reach her at laura.howells@cbc.ca.

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