Lead in the Drinking Water
The Ontario drinking water quality standard, based on the National Health Canada guideline is 10 micrograms per liter. Lead is a naturally occurring toxic heavy metal with a number of applications. Lead in drinking water is likely dissolved from the solder used in older plumbing. Even small amounts of lead can be harmful, especially to infants, young children and pregnant women. Long term exposure to lower levels of lead may cause developmental delays and other deficits.
Since 2007, the Ontario Safe Drinking Water Act (Reg. 243/07 Schools, Private Schools and Day Nurseries) has required school boards to flush the cold water plumbing on a daily or weekly basis (depending on previous testing results and other factors), maintain flushing logs, take annual water samples, and report drinking water test results to the Ministry of Environment and Climate Change (MOECC). In the fall of 2017, the results for the two previous school years were posted on the Ministry website and have attracted media attention. Many staff and parents are concerned that they were previously not informed of and did not feel that bagged water fountains and “handwashing only” signs were sufficient notification.
The Ministry of Education has written a memo to Directors of Education stating, “As part of our ongoing commitment to transparency, the Ministry of Education expects parents and guardians are to be made aware in a timely manner of all situations where a lead exceedance has been detected in the drinking water of a school or child care centre, and how the exceedance will be addressed.” Some school boards have been notifying parents through email but staff have not always been informed.
On July 1st, 2017, the regulation was amended to require all school boards to take a water sample from every tap used for consumption and food preparation and from all fountains used by children under the age of 18. This phased-in sampling of all required sample points will be completed by the January 1, 2022 deadline. This website provides more details on the evolving flushing and sampling requirements: Flushing and Sampling for Lead.
The testing results will likely be available each fall since this testing tends to occur in the summer months. In addition to immediate notification to all staff of all concerning adverse results, the Joint Health and Safety Committee (JHSC) is entitled to obtain the following from the Employer:
- access to a copy of the lead testing results and water flushing records since 2008 indicating which taps were included;
- consultation about any future water testing, and an opportunity for a worker member of a JHSC to attend at the beginning of testing in order to validate the results; and
- technical information about the type and maintenance of filtration systems installed on plumbed water coolers or drinking fountains.
Any staff member with concerns has the right to request information from their Principal/Supervisor or discuss strategies with the worker members of their JHSC. If anyone is concerned about lead exposure, their doctor can conduct a simple blood test to measure the lead level in their blood.