Rupert schools to be tested regularly for lead levels

School districts in B.C. are now required to do regular water testing for lead.

Mila Rothwell

Regular lead testing is coming for B.C. schools.

Just before the spring session ended in the B.C. legislature in Victoria, Education Minister Mike Bernier instituted a new system of reminders to school districts, to test for lead annually.

Those school districts must then report their results to the ministry, which will then compile the reports and look for instances where lead is still an issue.

High levels of lead found in B.C. school drinking water became a hot-button issue when it was reported that Pineridge Elementary, Roosevelt Park Elementary, Conrad Elementary and Prince Rupert Middle School were found to have unacceptable levels of lead in the schools’ drinking water.

North Coast MLA Jennifer Rice, NDP opposition critic for rural and northern health, introduced her own private member’s bill, the Safe Water for Schools Act 2016.

While the bill wasn’t formally passed, as it was never discussed in the legislature, Rice said she feels somewhat ‘vindicated’ last week after being dismissed for months, as the B.C. Liberal government had originally told her it wasn’t a widespread issue.

“Right at the end of the session, we hear that they’re actually going to require all schools to be tested annually. So essentially, without passing or debating my bill, they are implementing it,” Rice said.

“Unfortunately that’s how partisan politics works sometimes, but nonetheless I’m happy that the substance of my bill is being addressed … It’s a step in the right direction.”

A Vancouver Sun survey reported 17 of B.C.’s 60 school districts have elevated levels of lead in drinking water with Delta, most recently, found numerous water sources containing higher than normal levels. Three Penticton schools also detected lead in their water. As recently as 2012, lead was also found in drinking water at Kitimat public schools.

Rice alleges that the government told Lower Mainland schools to implement mitigation measures, such as flushing, but “that information didn’t gravitate toward the north.”

“Being dismissed and having the issue downplayed I found it very frustrating, to not have the issue taken seriously when I know it is a serious issue and even the ministry’s own scientists are publishing papers saying this should be treated as a public health priority,” she said.

“But I’m happy we’re moving in the right direction now.”

The Prince Rupert School District (SD52) received $150,000 from B.C.’s ‘fix-it fund’ and have allocated an additional $75,000 to be used to install automatic flushing valves this upcoming school year.

BC Teachers’ Federation president Jim Iker could not be reached for comment by press time, but supported Rice’s bill when introduced in April.

“The proposed legislation is straightforward and pragmatic. It calls for regular testing of drinking water in schools and the creation of mitigation strategies when health standards are not met. There is no reason this bill should not receive unanimous support in the Legislative Assembly,” said Iker in April.