Five schools located in School District 85 have high levels of lead in their water, causing their drinking fountains to be deactivated until further notice.
“Safe drinking water for students and staff is obviously a great concern to School District 85. We will be doing everything we possibly can to ensure safe drinking water at our schools,” said Dr. Scott Benwell, Superintendent of Schools, adding that “as soon as we saw the results, we immediately started the process,” to rectify the issue.
During the 2016 two-week Spring Break when the schools’ pipes were not in use, all of the Vancouver Island North schools in the district had their water tested to determine water quality. The results came back for five of the local schools showing lead at levels that exceeded the maximum acceptable concentration under the Guidelines for Canadian Drinking Water Quality. The following schools are currently the ones affected: A.J. Elliot Elementary School in Sointula; Eagle View Elementary School in Port Hardy; Fort Rupert Elementary School in Port Hardy; North Island Secondary School in Port McNeill; and Port Hardy Secondary School.
In a letter to parents and guardians dated April 20, Benwell stated that “District personnel are working with Island Health to determine ways to effectively reduce the potential of lead in drinking water such as through the implementation of flushing programs which have been shown to reduce lead levels well below the Health Canadian guidelines. School District No. 85 is committed to ensuring the drinking water provided to students and staff through all its schools and facilities is safe. As such, water fountains in the affected schools will be deactivated until control measures can be implemented, and retesting done that shows the drinking water provided is safe to consume. In the interim, children and staff are advised to obtain drinking water from other sources, such as from their home or bottled water.”
Benwell also wrote that “Lead is a metal that occurs naturally in the environment and was commonly used in plumbing materials. Any building constructed before 1990 is of particular concern. Since then, the building code changed and plumbing materials using any form of lead pipe or solder in plumbing systems that carry our drinking water.”
North Island Secondary School (NISS) Principal Jay Dixon said that while the drinking fountains are shut off at NISS, the school has “hired a local Port McNeill company, Island Gem Water, to provide water coolers around the school, which is working out fine.”
Allison McCarrick, Chief Administrative Officer for The District of Port Hardy, sent out a press release on April 22 stating that “The District of Port Hardy regularly tests the water supply as required by our Operating Permit regulated through Island Health. No water tests conducted by the District of Port Hardy have shown elevated levels or levels of lead above the Maximum Acceptable Concentration (MAC) in the drinking water system. All water samples are sent to a third party accredited lab for analysis.”