Quebec government orders schools to test their drinking water for lead


Quebec's education minister is ordering schools to test the quality of their tap water following an investigation by La Presse showing lead levels in water were too high in one out of six schools.

Jean-François Roberge said that there will be no compromise when it comes to the safety of children. Roberge said that if they find that lead levels go over the norms, they'll make sure those sources of water are sealed off.

In the La Presse investigation, four of the 24 samples showed lead levels above the Health Canada maximum.  Environmental chemist Sébastien Sauvé told the newspaper that's worrisome, considering that school kids may drink from the fountain all day long, five days a week for seven years. The samples were also taken without letting the water run for five minutes, which is the protocol for formal lead testing.  

Montreal's public health department said parents have a right to be concerned but that they have to put the information into context.

"The individual risk is actually low," said Dr. David Kaiser in charge of enviornmental health. "The reason it becomes a public health issue is because many, many people are exposed."

High lead levels in drinking water have been linked to learning and brain development problems in children.

"Even though at low levels the individual risk is low, it's still present and we know that we can get rid of it so that's what we want to do," said Kaiser.

Kaisar said the tests done by schools will let them know where the problems are so they can address them.

Roberge said the tests would be done quickly but didn't give a timeline. 

"In the meantime, what I would suggest, is parents who are more concerned, is send your child to school with water," said Kaiser in an interview with CJAD 800.

The Lester B. Pearson School Board, by chance, will be testing water in their schools for copper thanks to a McGill University engineering study so lead testing will also be done at the same time.

Assistant director general Carol Heffernan told the Andrew Carter Show that the public health department checked out the water in some of their schools two years ago and there didn't seem to be a problem.

The Riverside School Board said they never had problems with the water in their schools but will also test their water.