TRURO – Testing the water for copper and lead at Colchester County schools will resume in the spring.
In 2019, Health Canada published new health-based guidelines for lead and copper in drinking water, and an investigation by more than 120 journalists across the country, including journalism students, identified lead levels above the national level, including in Nova Scotia.
Jennifer Rodgers, spokesperson for the Chignecto-Central Regional Centre for Education, said in an email that five schools in Colchester County had been tested for lead and copper in October 2019. Of those five, four showed levels above acceptable levels. The new guidelines under Health Canada reduced the maximum acceptable concentration from 0.01 mg/L, which was set in 1992, to half that – 0.005 mg/L.
“The schools’ staff, parents, and guardians received information after the testing on the next steps and if any corrective actions were needed at the school,” Rodgers said. “Any areas at these schools showing above the acceptable levels have been taken out of service and have signage at the tap or fountain.”
The five tested in October include Debert Elementary, Great Village Elementary, North River Elementary, Valley Elementary, and Wallace Consolidated. North River was the only one with results within the acceptable levels. The school returned to using the regular water supply.
In Debert, three of seven fountains and taps are above acceptable levels and have been reduced to non-consumption, with signage being placed at the taps.
Great Village results show five of six taps above acceptable levels, and the school remains on alternate water for drinking and cooking.
Valley Elementary has seven of 11 fountains and taps above acceptable levels, with all seven reduced to non-consumption with signage in place.
Two of four areas in Wallace tested above acceptable levels, and the school remains on alternate water for drinking and cooking for aesthetic reasons.
“Test results require careful interpretation since the concentration of lead can vary considerably over time and certain fountains and taps may remain unused for longer periods of time according to the natural pattern of events within a school,” said Rodgers, adding the centre for education is providing temporary corrective measures while the cause of the elevated lead is determined. “After investigation is complete, we will implement long-term permanent solutions that will correct exceedances.
“We always put student and staff safety first and comply with regulations and standards. In addition to our regular testing, there is now a new water testing protocol for lead and copper outlined by the Department of Environment for Nova Scotia schools.”
Alternate water solutions for the schools include bottled water and water coolers. Schools that haven’t been tested yet will be tested in the spring, and the schools have been switched to the alternate solutions.
“Part of the Department of Environment protocol relies on the groundwater being at a specific temperature and, therefore, testing cannot take place in the winter months. Testing can only happen in warmer weather,” said Rodgers.