Northern Health wants School District 59 to test drinking water at its facilities in the South Peace after elevated levels of lead were discovered at a Prince Rupert school last month.
The health authority is asking the district to evaluate the plumbing in all schools and buildings built before 1989.
There’s no indication that lead is present in any schools in the South Peace, but it’s unclear when the last round of testing for the toxic substance was completed.
Officials with the school district could not be reached before deadline because of the March Break.
“You cannot see, taste, or smell lead in water,” Dr. Sandra Allison, chief medical health officer with Northern Health, wrote in a February 26 letter to SD 59 Superintendent Leslie Lambie.
“It is important to note that while we have no evidence of children being adversely affected in B.C., it is nonetheless important to reduce population lead exposure,” she said.
If lead is found in drinking water systems, the concentrations are typically extremely low, Allison wrote.
“If elevated levels of lead are found in tap water, the source is generally from plumbing materials that contain lead or brass,” she said.
These could include lead pipes or connections, including the service connection to the building from the outside, as well as lead used to connect pipes or brass materials such as valves, fittings and fixtures.
The amount of lead that might dissolve into the water of a school’s plumbing system depends on several factors, Allison says, like the acidity and softness of water sources.
She said schools in coastal areas tend to see higher levels of lead in water due to environmental factors, including the wetter climate.
“Generally, it is the soft, slightly acidic water and low alkalinity often found in coastal areas that is more likely to contribute to the leaching of lead into drinking water from lead pipes (or) connections,” Allison wrote.
If elevated lead levels are discovered in South Peace schools, short-term solutions might include providing bottled water or installing filtration systems at water fountains and sources in schools.
Daily water line flushing may also be required, which would mean running all drinking water taps in the morning before school opens for the day.