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NOVA SCOTIA: GOVERNMENT PROVIDING SCHOOLS WITH BOTTLED WATER IN VIEW OF MOUNTING LEAD CONCERNS
Nova Scotia’s 324 public schools are receiving bottled water as a precautionary measure until lead testing in all schools can be completed. Testing began in September 2019 and will resume in the spring as temperature plays a determining factor in testing procedures. To date 40 of the schools tested show unacceptable levels of lead set out by the new Guidelines For Canadian Drinking Water Quality.
WaterToday spoke with Minister of Education Zach Churchill who told us, “We are following the broad guidelines that have come from Health Canada.”
The Guidelines For Canadian Drinking Water Quality, updated March,2019, state the acceptable concentration for total lead in drinking water is 0.005 mg/L based on a sample of water taken at the tap and using the appropriate protocol for the type of building being sampled.
“As current science cannot identify a level under which lead is no longer associated with adverse health effects, lead concentrations in drinking water should be kept as low as reasonably achievable,” the new Guidelines state.
The Nova Scotia Government has decided to provide bottled water to all schools in the province to allay fears. “We don’t want to create anxiety amongst our students and their parents. Fears like that would definitely impact the students’ learning,” Churchill said.
With the recent attention to lead-poisoning parents and teachers’ unions have expressed concerns over lead exposure in drinking water to students.
In an interview with Dr.Bruce Lanpher, Clinician Scientist at the Child and Family Research institute, BC Children’s Hospital; and Professor at Simon Fraser University, WaterToday learned there is no safe level of lead exposure for children.
“Children who drank tap water with more than 5ppb (parts per billion) of lead had a 20% increase in the amount of lead circulating in their blood. On average, a 10 ppb increase in the amount of lead circulating in a child’s blood results in a 1-1.5 drop in IQ scores...
“The impact on the developing brain is permanent. Children who are more regularly exposed to toxins won’t reach the same peak cognitive ability as those with lower exposures,” Dr. Lanphear told WT.
“We consider ourselves Leaders of Change,” Education Minister Zach Churchill continued. “Our responsibilty is the health and safety of our children-- that is our primary concern.”
“Our objective is to test every single tap in every single school.”
The plan is to supply the schools with industrial-sized jugs of water until the end of the school year at an estimated cost of $1.7 million.
“We are not saying there is a safety risk,” Churchill said, “We have consulted with the Chief Medical Officer who assured us there is nothing to worry about. But we have heard concerns from the Teachers’ Union. They are uncomfortable with the anxiety that drinking water issues are causing with parents, teachers and children. It is a well -known fact that anxiety in students affects their performance and learning. So as not to create undue stress amongst our students we are providing bottled water until all testing can be completed.”
WaterToday contacted the office of the Chief Medical Officer of Health Nova Scotia and received the following emailed statement from Dr.Robert Strang:
"The decision by the Department of Education and Early Childhood Development to provide 324 schools with bottled water until lead testing can be completed is both positive and proactive. While there are no significant health concerns with students consuming the water in the interim, the decision to provide bottled water provides comfort to families until such time as testing can be completed."
We reached out to the Principal of one of the 40 schools already tested and showing unacceptable lead levels. Scotsburn Elementary School in Pictou has been under a Do Not Consume Order since 2012 due to elevated levels of lead in the groundwater. Principal Glen McCarron referred us to Jennifer Rodgers, Communications Manager, Chignecto Central Regional Centre For Education, the designated spokesperson for all school issues.
Both Rodgers and Minister Churchill explained that as of March 31, 2018, the province’s seven regional school boards were replaced with a 15-member provincial advisory council. “It is a much simpler governance structure and easier to regulate, allowing us a more modern approach,” the Minister said.
“We always put safety first and comply with regulations and standards,” Rodgers told WT. “based on regular tests, Scotsburn Elementary School remains on bottled water since 2012. As per our process the drinking taps and water fountains were taken out of service. There have been many attempts to help lower the lead in groundwater including working with an external consultant. We continuously test and review our results with the Nova Scotia Department of Environment.
Churchill added that when unacceptable levels were originally determined at Scotsburn 8 years ago the school was immediately issued bottled water. “Their safety was never at risk.”
The Department of Environment has advised that testing must be in relation to groundwater temperatures. All Regional Centres for Education in Nova Scotia will resume testing in the spring.
The new protocol requires the water to sit undisturbed for a minimum of 8 hours and to take the sample water without flushing the system first. Test results require careful interpretation since the concentration of lead can vary considerably over time and certain fountains and taps may remain unused for a more extended period of time according to the natural pattern of events within a school. If a tap fountain or faucet has elevated lead or copper, temporary corrective measures will be put in place until the cause of the elevated lead is determined. After investigation is complete, long-term permanent solutions will be addressed.
“As far as Scotsburn is concerned, we don’t know how long that will take. But the students safety is our responsibility.”
“We are also in the process of creating an online database for parents and teachers that will provide real-time information on the water quality in schools. We will have this up and running in September 2020,” Minister of Education Zach Churchill added.
“We don’t want families to worry about the quality of the drinking water in their schools.”
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