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PROVINCIAL, ON: ONTARIO'S WATER TESTING LABS PLAY VITAL ROLE IN KEEPING DRINKING WATER SAFE
This story is brought to you in part by Grandma's Garden Laundry Soap
One of the most vital parts of the checks and balances system that governs our water quality in Ontario isn't directly associated with municipalities or the provincial government.
As the costs for running their own testing labs would be astronomical, the Ministry of Environment and Climate Change puts the onus on those who run non-municipal water systems to send their water samples to third party labs across Ontario. These labs have the weighty responsibility of testing said samples and reporting the results
This isn't a responsibility that's taken lightly at all
According to Glenna Pike, the Lab Manager Environmental for ALS labs in Waterloo, there's an extensive process a lab goes through in order to become licenced to perform these sensitive tests
"We have to become ISO17025 accredited," she told this reporter, referring to a rigorous standard used by testing and calibration laboratories that pertains to quality management, "And then we have to be licenced by the Ministry (MOECC)." She went on to say, "There's an application process and after that they audit us. After that they come twice a year to audit us; one announced and one unannounced."
Schools and day cares are some of the most sensitive systems that ALS labs tests on a regular basis. The plumbing systems need to be checked and tested thoroughly for lead
Nella Gudzak, an account manager at the same lab whose focus is drinking water testing told this reporter a little about the testing process they're required to perform under regulation 243 of Ontario's Safe Drinking Water act, which pertains to lead in the drinking water supply of schools and day cares
"The limit for lead in drinking water is 10 ug/L (micrograms per litre), so if we have a sample case above that, we have a four hour window in which to complete a written report, which his to be faxed or emailed to the Ministry of the Environment, the Health Unit in that municipality as well as the owner/ operator of the system."
It's been almost a decade since Ontario implemented a lead testing program. Houses, buildings and infrastructure built before the 1950s used lead extensively, as it's easy to work with. Infants and children under six can be highly susceptible to small amounts of lead in the drinking water, with detrimental effects to their nervous system, which can affect their intelligence and attention-related behaviours.
For schools, such as rural ones that use their own well or groundwater supply off of municipal systems, the lab also tests for E-coli and total coliform. Any result when testing that is above zero ug/L is cause for concern, especially with E-coli, as the risk for someone becoming quite ill is high. With total coliform, a result above zero is more of an indicator that something is wrong with the system.
When Pike was asked, what's stopping an owner or maintenance worker for one of these systems from sending in a sample that came from an iceberg off the coast of Finland, she said, "nothing is stopping them."
So for all the good a proper testing facility does, the onus is still on maintenance workers to be diligent.
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