Is the drinking water in Mission schools safe?

‘No students or staff are drinking lead-impacted water,’ says superintendent Angus Wilson

Mission school superintendent Angus Wilson has posted a letter on the school district website assuring parents that the quality of drinking water in local schools is safe.

The letter was issued on Nov. 12 after a study, and subsequent news story, came out saying a majority of public schools in Mission – as well as Abbotsford and other areas – use water with lead above a recently adjusted threshold set by Health Canada.

In March 2019, Health Canada halved the acceptable amount of lead concentration in water from .01 to .005 mg/L.

“Every single drinking line that kids have is safe,” said Wilson, adding that schools began testing water quality four years ago, as mandated by the Ministry of Education.

In 2017, the Mission School District began testing for lead as more than 150 water sources – including taps and fountains – were examined. At that time, 39 fountains were decommissioned, one fountain was replaced and work was done to re-pipe the plumbing for a second fountain that was being replaced.

“There are schools everywhere that have lines that were closed off. But as far as I’m aware, there is no drinking water that kids are using and staff are using that is above those lead limits,” Wilson said.

He said, in some cases, the lines were closed off entirely; in others they were deemed for hand washing only. Those would be in staff room areas only and not accessible to students, Wilson said.

“If you run the lines for a minute or two, the water is just fine, but that is a message kids have trouble with,” he said, which is why students don’t have access to those lines.

“The drinking-fountain water is fine. And the other lines, if not safe for consumption, are turned off.”

Every building in the school system has to be tested by a third, independent party once every three years. To do that, one-third of the buildings are tested each year.

“When we test a school and when a line fails, we send a notice home to parents,” Wilson said.

The notice explains which water source failed, whether it will be closed permanently, and whether measures are being taken to repair it.

“The bottom line is, no students or staff are drinking lead-impacted water,” Wilson said.

One question remains: Now that Health Canada recently adjusted the acceptable threshold of lead, will Mission’s new test results meet these standards?

Wilson said if they don’t, more action will be taken.

Lead exposure can have serious health consequences in children. Their bodies absorb lead four to five times more than adults, which can lead to irreversible brain and behavioral disorders, according to the World Health Organization.

The problem of lead in public school water is not exclusive to Mission. Around 45 per cent of all public schools in the province failed at least one water test between 2016 and 2019, according to data from the Ministry of Education.

– with files from Patrick Penner

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