School District advises running water to avoid high concentration of lead in water

Derek Kilbourn

Sounder News

Tuesday, April 25 2017

Gabriola Elementary School water was not tested for lead in a recent sampling done by Nanaimo-Ladysmith Public Schools (NLPS).

Dale Burgos, Director of Communications for NLPS said the mandate from the province is to test the water of 1/3 of facilities built before 1990 in each district every three years. Gabriola Elementary will be captured in either year two or year three of the testing.

Gabriola is the twelfth oldest facility in NLPS, having been constructed in 1953 according to the NLPS web site.

Lead is present in drinking water in the schools due to the corrosion of plumbing systems. 

Sources typically include: lead solder + jointing compound, lead in bronze and brass fittings, and lead service lines.

The longer water sits in the pipes, the higher the concentration of lead.

Testing at the facilities chosen was done in December of 2016 by private firm Tetra Tech, as contracted by NLPS.

Nanaimo District Secondary School (NDSS) - the default catchment school for Gabriola children after they graduate to Grade 8 - was included in the first round of sampling.

Samples for all the schools were taken after midnight on Sundays to represent the worst case scenario - the longest time that water sits stagnant in the building water distribution system during the school year. 59% of zero second samples met Canadian Drinking Water Quality Guidelines (CDWQG) with less than 10 micrograms per litre. 98% of samples taken after 2 minutes of flushing of pipes met acceptable standards. Six samples out of 273 did not pass. 

One sample at NDSS and two at John Barsby Secondary School failed after 5 minutes of flushing.

Where pipes are not being replaced as required, NLPS is advicing school staff and students to do two things to lower the amount of lead present in water when consumed.

First thing in the morning, water is to be run for two minutes before drinking.

For the rest of the day, water is to be run until it is cold before drinking.

Burgos said he could not say whether Gabriola was slated for testing in year two or three of the program.

He added while the Ministry requirement is to get all the schools sampled and tested in a three year period, NLPS Facilities department is looking at getting it done sooner.

Burgos confirmed regular testing of water for biological contaminants is done as required by Island Health.

He did not have a date for when Gabriola Elementary would have last been tested for lead - or any other minerals.

Signage will be posted at all sites of water consumption in NLPS facilities.

According to the NLPS information being distributed, approximately 9.8 per cent of lead consumed by children and 11.3 per cent of lead consumed by adults comes from drinking water. Other regular sources are food, air pollution, soil, and household dust.

Nanaimo Ladysmith Public Schools is replacing faucets and fittings where high lead concentrations were identified, and installing automated flushing systems where appropriate to prevent stagnant water in the plumbing systems – all part of our long-term monitoring awareness program.