Nova Scotia

Province releases testing results for lead in water of all Nova Scotia schools

Nova Scotia’s Department of Education has released its testing data on lead and copper in school pipes. It confirms that some taps at many schools exceed Health Canada lead limits.

Province released its testing data on lead and copper in school pipes

The province has released more than 350 pages of testing data on lead and copper levels in school pipes. (Mark Humphrey/The Associated Press)

Nova Scotia's Department of Education has released its testing data on lead and copper in school water pipes, after Health Canada updated its guidelines in March 2019.

The changes reduced the maximum acceptable concentration from 0.01 mg/L, set in 1992, to 0.005 mg/L. They also introduced new testing protocols for schools.

An investigation by Global News and the Star Halifax, in partnership with Concordia University, University of King's College and other media academic partners, found that at least 23 schools in Nova Scotia had lead levels exceeding Health Canada's limit in the past 10 years.

The data released Wednesday is published in eight separate PDF documents, one for each regional centre for education in the province. Every tap in every school is documented – some schools have fewer than 10 taps, others have more than 100.

In total, there are more than 350 pages. When asked why the data was published this way, rather than a complete and searchable database, Education Minister Zach Chuchill said the published PDFs are the database.

"I don't see a difference.… There's information on the thousands of taps that we tested and that information will be updated as there's new information that becomes available," he said.

Education Minister Zach Churchill said the province will continue to provide bottled water to 324 of the 370 schools until the issues are resolved in each school. (CBC)

Bottled water to continue for now

Taps that exceed lead or copper limits won't be used for drinking water for the time being. They'll either be replaced, disconnected, taped off, or restricted to hand-washing only. Under current COVID restrictions, students do not have access to water fountains either.

The province has been providing bottled water to 324 of the 370 schools since January, and Churchill said they will continue to do that until the issues are resolved in each school. 

Churchill said the issues can vary from the tap itself, to the pipes, to the source water.

The province is procuring touchless water fountains, Churchill said, which will fix any problems related to the taps themselves. He did not have an estimate on the cost.

Despite many pipes in many schools exceeding Health Canada's acceptable maximum of 0.005 mg/L – Central Kings Rural School in Cambridge had a tap with 4,000 times that amount – Churchill said he has spoken with public health and there is no cause for concern.

"We don't believe there's a reason for the public to be alarmed over this," he said.

Health Minister Randy Delorey said the Department of Education is ensuring there is drinking water available to all students and staff.

"As far as any infrastructure changes that need to be made to address the original sources of water, that's work that falls under the Department of Education and Transportation and Infrastructure Renewal," he said.