April 7, 2016 | Tracy Sherlock | Vancouver Sun
The B.C. Teachers’ Federation is urging the provincial government to ensure schools have safe drinking water.
There is concern about lead in school drinking water — a teacher in Kitimat had water tested after a failed classroom experiment on salmon eggs in 2012, and tests found contaminated drinking water at four schools in Prince Rupert, several years after concerns were first raised, the BCTF said.
Jennifer Rice, the NDP MLA representing North Coast, introduced a private member’s bill on Thursday that calls on the government to adopt the Safe Water for Schools Act, which would require regular testing of water in schools. The BCTF is calling on government to pass the bill.
“As the foundation of life, safe drinking water is one of our most basic human needs,” Rice said when she introduced the act into the legislature. “Young children are especially vulnerable to contaminated water, yet British Columbians were shocked to learn that there are children in British Columbia schools whose drinking water is compromised.”
The accumulation of lead in the body can lead to neurological issues in children and it has been associated with low intelligence scores and behavioural disorders like attention deficit disorder and anti-social behaviour, Rice said.
“The fact is there is no routine testing of lead in children’s drinking water in British Columbia,” Rice said. “It is impossible to know if lead in school drinking water is a problem without a systematic provincewide approach to testing.”
The Ministry of Education put the onus on schools to test their water for safety, although it said there is no evidence children have been adversely affected in B.C. In February, deputy education minister Dave Byng wrote a letter to school districts reminding them to work with local health authorities on plans to evaluate water quality, especially in schools built after 1989. The letter says the plans should include testing of “priority facilities” and it says there are a number of actions that can be taken to manage risks.
The BCTF, at its annual general meeting last month, called for a regular water monitoring program across the province. BCTF president Jim Iker said schools should be safe places for all children, youth and staff.
“The proposed legislation is straight forward and pragmatic. It calls for regular testing of drinking water in schools and the creation of mitigation strategies when health standards are not met,” Iker said in a news release. “There is no reason this bill should not receive unanimous support in the legislature.”