February 22, 2016
This week we learned that the drinking water provided to children in four schools in Prince Rupert was contaminated with lead. This revelation came four years after drinking water in Kitimat schools was discovered to have also exceeded maximum allowable lead levels. A published report, written by government scientists, after the Kitimat incident recommended other Northwest schools be tested for lead. It stated that, “Given the serious health consequences of lead exposure even at low levels, reducing lead exposures should be a public health priority.”
Why was drinking water in Prince Rupert schools not tested earlier? How long have officials known there was lead in the drinking water?
Watch the Governments’ response to these questions here:
John Horgan, Leader of the Official Opposition, MLA Juan de Fuca
February 18, 2016: http://bit.ly/24mIdUI
According to government’s own scientists, even small quantities of lead can be very dangerous, especially to young children. The report also noted that if children were drinking water from homes with lead pipes in the same neighbourhood as the affected schools, the combined effect of drinking water from both sources could have serious effects. After two days of questioning, the BC Government continued to sidestep questions about the contaminated drinking water.
The NDP Official Opposition is calling for mandatory water testing for all schools in the province to ensure that schools have safe drinking water for the students and staff.
The Ministry of Health has shown an absence of leadership by choosing not to test drinking water in a timely manner. Furthermore, to then not inform the general public in Prince Rupert that there are, in fact, lead issues in the drinking water, not just in schools but throughout our community, is an abrogation of responsibility.
While parents are being reassured that there is not an acute health concern regarding lead in school drinking water, what the public is not being told is that the accumulation of even low levels of lead over time has been associated with neurological issues in children, developmental problems with growing fetuses, and heart, kidney, and stomach issues in adults.
It is well known that Prince Rupert has an aging infrastructure challenge with many buildings and homes still containing lead water pipes, but the Ministry of Health has failed to test the drinking water of school children in the Northwest, despite doing so in other parts of the province in the 1980s and 1990s. His own staff urgently recommended that northwest schools be tested in 2014. This neglect has resulted in children consuming contaminated drinking water. At Pineridge elementary school, lead was found to be 14 x above the maximum allowable levels.
And yet, last week the Minister of Health told the BC legislature that his staff discovered highly elevated lead levels in Prince Rupert school drinking water through “routine testing”.
It should be noted that there is no routine testing of drinking water in BC Schools. Only Ontario has legislation in place to regularly test and report for lead in schools.
The sad fact is that the Minister’s staff discovered this serious issue in Prince Rupert as the result of a 2012 classroom science experiment gone wrong in Kitimat — not routine testing. When salmon eggs in a classroom aquarium would not hatch, a teacher took it upon herself to get the water tested. When the results showed high levels of copper and lead, the test results were provided to public health, which in turn, prompted an investigation of other Kitimat schools; it was found that they too had lead issues.
The Health Minister’s staff wrote an academic paper about the Kitimat water issue in 2014 for the Province’s Centre for Disease Control. The Kitimat report said:“Given the consequences of lead exposure during childhood and the effects that can occur even at low levels, reducing lead exposures should be a public health priority”.
And yet, the Minister didn’t do a thing until one of his staff, a dedicated public servant, took the initiative and tested the water in Prince Rupert schools this year.
The 2014 report identified that, if the plumbing in children’s homes is similar to that of the school’s older construction, then the cumulative lead levels from both sources would “more than double typical total lead intakes”.
The report also states: “Exposure in childhood has been associated with lower intelligence scores as well as behavioural disorders such as attention deficit disorder and antisocial behaviour”.
The report explains how low levels of lead can effect fetal development during pregnancy and cause neurological, cardiovascular and renal effects in adults.
As specified by the Chief Medical Officer there is no “acute” health issue from drinking water from the schools alone.
However, it is unknown what the cumulative impacts have been to Prince Rupert children and adults from drinking this water over time, especially in consideration with lead obtained from other sources, such as the older water pipes found in many homes in Prince Rupert.
To test your own water, home test kits are available at the Public Health Unit at 300 Third ave. West for $29. If you are concerned about you or your child’s health, talk to your doctor or primary care provider.
You can read the Kitimat report here: bit.ly/1XABAJU
Here are two news articles of interest in relation to Prince Rupert contaminated water.
Province failed to act on lead in school water, B.C. NDP says:
High lead levels found in water at four Prince Rupert schools:
Yours in Service,