LEAD AND COPPER FOUND IN DRINKING WATER OF TWO PORTNEUF, QC SCHOOLS
By Cori Marshall
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It's early September and children across Canada are back in their classrooms for another year of learning. For some students in Québec the school year began last week, and for two schools in the Portneuf School Board "Back to School" had overtones of heavy metal, and I don't mean the music. Concentrations of lead and copper were found in the drinking water of École des Trois Sources and École de la Riveraine in Portneuf QuÉbec.
To find out how the School Board is dealing with the situation we spoke with Luc Galvani, the General Director of the Portneuf School Board.
Galvani said that "there are two completely different situations." He continued at "l'École des Trois Sources there is a presence of lead immediately after opening the faucet, 30 seconds, even five minutes later everything is okay." The problem here is really after opening the water, once the water is allowed to run a few seconds lead concentrations falls into the norms. The maximum acceptable concentration by Canadian standards is 0.010 mg/L.
At l'École de la Riveraine another situation has developed, firstly at this school, the major issue is with copper. Galvani said what is strange here is that concentrations of copper rise," rather than fall as time passes.
Galvani explained that the reason why the concentration of metals was discovered was that the two schools "are associated with an organization from Université Laval, Visez Eau, who promotes drinking water versus soft drinks." The group is associated with a group of researchers from École Polytechnique in Montréal, and "tests were performed as part of the process to determine whether the water was of good quality."
Galvani underlined that "the university researchers who we worked with are not recognized or certified by the Environment Ministry." The tests were not official, though the levels of copper were four times the accepted levels inside of five minutes. The school board quickly took samples "from the fixtures that had the worst results." There was still a presence of "copper and lead when the water is opened at la Riveraine.
There is no connection to the municipal distribution system. Presently all of the fixtures at l'École de la Riveraine "have been shut off and bottled water is being provided to students." Once water is allowed to run a few minutes at l'École des Trois Sources it is safe to drink.
This is not the first time there have been reports of lead in the drinking water of Québec schools. In the spring of 2016, six schools were found to have concentrations of lead in their drinking water.
On its website, Health Canada states that "medical and scientific research shows that even the absorption of very small quantities of lead into the bloodstream can have adverse effects on the intellectual and behavioural development of children." Blood lead levels of foetus and children that range from "10 to 15 micrograms per decilitre," affect neurobehavioral and cognitive systems. At levels in excess of 40 micrograms per decilitre, "the body loses its ability to produce red blood cells."
Where it concerns lead and copper the Québec government made significant changes to the Règlement sur la qualitÉ de l'eau potable (RQEP) which came into effect on March 8, 2013. The changes focus on the frequency and areas where sampling is conducted. Article 14.1 sets the minimum number of samples to be taken based on the size of the population that a drinking water distribution system serves.
According to the most recent census data available, the population of Portneuf is 3,187. Based on the 2013 RQEP amendments a system serving a population of this size must be tested for lead and copper a minimum of five times "between July 1 and October 1." For the smallest populations in QuÉbec testing for these metals must be done a minimum of two times in the same period.
For the time being the school board is monitoring the situation and has asked for tests to be performed on all points of service in the schools, samples should be taken early next week and results are expected by September 18.