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18th December 2017
Times Colonist
16 Dec 2017

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The Greater Victoria school district is taking another step to reduce lead levels in drinking water, installing about 350 new fountains at an estimated cost of $350,000.

Recent test results from 21 schools indicate that lead levels have improved since $200,000 worth of filtration systems were installed last year.

But the tests also found elevated traces of lead in some schools — particularly where water had sat in pipes for long periods of time.

Installation of the fountains will start in early 2018.

For now, students and staff are being urged to run water for 15 to 30 seconds before taking a drink, and stickers are being put on fountains as a reminder.

Spectrum Community School and Shoreline Middle School will receive immediate attention. Shoreline had one measurement at 50 times the recommended limit of lead before flushing.

The tests were carried out at the schools that registered the highest lead concentrations last year.

Staff believe old copper pipes in the school contain lead, which leaches into water as it sits between the filters and the fountain spigots.

Once the water flows for 15 to 30 seconds, however, filtration systems kick in and lead levels in most cases return to a safe level.

“As you look through the results, there’s typically at least one [per school] that has an issue first thing in the morning,” said Mark Walsh, the school board’s secretary-treasurer.

“It’s not a panic, because the filters are working. It’s just that we’re going to do what many of the other school districts have done and put on the stickers.”

According to Health Canada, exposure to lead can lead to behavioural problems and learning disabilities in children, and has set 0.01 milligrams per litre (or 10 parts per billion) as the maximum acceptable concentration of lead in drinking water.

Superintendent Piet Langstraat said the goal is to ensure that students and staff at all 47 district schools have safe drinking water. School board chairwoman Edith Loring-Kuhanga said the district will be looking to the Ministry of Education for financial support with the fountains.

In early December, the province announced that six B.C. schools would get funding to address high lead levels in their water, including two from the capital region.

Chosen were École Sundance Elementary, a Greater Victoria school district site being leased by the Conseil scolaire francophone de la Columbie-Britannique, and the Children’s Development Centre in the Saanich school district.

Both are up for plumbing upgrades and other work to be completed by March 31, 2018, part of a $750,000 project funded by B.C.’s School Enhancement Program.

A total of $6.5 million was spent last year to address high lead levels at B.C. schools.

In the Saanich school district, auto-flushing devices have been put in at all pre-1990 schools. Sooke school district testing of pre-1990 schools found just one site of concern: the former Metchosin Elementary School.

Concerns with lead in school water in B.C. began to emerge in February 2016 when levels above national guidelines were found at four Prince Rupert schools.