Parents in Prince Rupert were informed by School District 52 of elevated lead levels in the drinking water at four schools.
Northern Health found higher than the recommended levels of lead in the water at Pineridge Elementary, École Roosevelt Park Community School, Conrad Elementary and Prince Rupert Middle School.
A letter was sent out to parents on Feb. 16 ensuring that the drinking water given to students and staff is safe and that the schools in the district have already taken steps to “address possible health concerns related to exposure to lead, including the implementation of a flushing program before the start of each school day,” as written in the letter by Sandra Jones, the superintendent of schools in School District 52.
Lead is a naturally occurring metal found in the earth and that letter explains that everyone is exposed to low levels of lead in food, tap water, air, dust, soil and some consumer products. But the federal government restricts its use now.
In the four affected schools the cause was found to be lead in the plumbing system. Schools built before 1989 were tested by Northern Health for possible exposure to lead. In buildings where tap water remains in the pipes for a long time it can increase the levels of lead present in the water.
“Flushing programs are shown to be effective in decreasing lead levels at the tap. School District 52 has purchased and is installing new filtered water fountains tested and shown to effectively remove lead. Children and staff will be asked to fill water bottles from these filtered fountains, or other designated sources,” the letter states.
In response to Northern Health’s findings, MLA Jennifer Rice sent out a press release and said that she is deeply concerned over the elevated lead levels in drinking water at the Prince Rupert schools.
“Children are very vulnerable to lead exposure, and the levels found in school drinking water exceeded Health Canada guidelines,” Rice said. “In light of these findings I want to see older schools in other communities in the northwest, on the central coast and on Haida Gwaii are tested for lead exposure.”
The City of Prince Rupert responded to ease concerns of residents about the condition of drinking water in the area.
“We want to reassure the public that there is no lead contamination through the delivery of potable water to the citizens of Prince Rupert. We test our water weekly at different locations and Northern Health has confirmed that the municipal water supply is safe to drink,” Mayor Lee Brain said in a press release.
“I am deeply concerned about this discovery. I can assure you that we will be working with our partners at Northern Health and the School District to look more closely into how this happened, as well as steps we can take to ensure citizens are better informed regarding how to prevent similar issues at home.”
However, the City is responsible for water only up to a homeowner’s property line. Up until 1975, the National Plumbing Code allowed lead to be used in pipe material and it wasn’t abolished until 1990. Some homes have been upgraded in the city but for those homes that haven’t the City urges those homeowners to have Northern Health test their water.
Sample kits can be picked up at the Northern Health Public Health Unit in Prince Rupert on 300 Third Avenue West. People can also bring a sample of water from home in a water bottle and have it analyzed for $29. Results will be mailed or emailed within two to three weeks and will be anonymously added in Northern Health’s data on lead exposure in the city.
The subject came up in Victoria on Feb. 17 in the Legislative Assembly when the NDP education critic, Robert Fleming, said the ministry wasn’t doing enough on the issue.
“In the case of Prince Rupert, they are flushing the pipes, and they’re telling parents that they can buy their own home lead-testing kit at a discount for $29. Is this all that the ministry is prepared to do — tell parents to buy a test kit and you’re on your own?”