Lead from old pipes hits home for MLAs

After Prince Rupert schools showed elevated lead levels in water, tests at the B.C. legislature showed similar results

The B.C. legislature, opened in 1897, has old pipes that leach lead into the water.

Independent MLA Vicki Huntington is hoping her tests showing high lead levels in B.C. legislature tap water will motivate the B.C. government to implement regular testing of older public buildings around the province.

Huntington released test results Tuesday showing that when sampled after sitting in pipes over a weekend, water from legislature taps contains about five times the federal and provincial safe level for lead.

Similar elevated levels were recently discovered in four schools in Prince Rupert, prompting a routine of running the water each morning to flush out the standing water.

Lead from solder can leach into water in areas where the water supply is more acidic. The provincial building code was changed in 1989 to eliminate the use of lead solder in plumbing.

Provincial Health Officer Dr. Perry Kendall said flushing water pipes is the quickest way to deal with the problem, which has been known in coastal areas for more than 20 years.

Filters can also be installed, and schools in Prince Rupert are starting to add filter-equipped water fountains that cost about $300 each. A routine of flushing taps in northern schools was in place, but a reorganization of health units and staff turnover in the school district over the years likely led to the routine being lost.

The North Coast school situation was raised in the legislature in February by local MLA Jennifer Rice. The problem was rediscovered in a school experiment where salmon eggs failed to hatch.

The education ministry sent letters to all B.C. school superintendents Feb. 24, directing them to work with health authorities to establish a plan to evaluate water quality in schools, particularly those constructed before 1989.

Huntington said nervous system effects of exposure to high lead levels are a particular concern for young children, and prolonged exposure is a health risk for anyone.

“It is an issue for those who spend their careers in this building,” Huntington told reporters at the legislature. “And I think they deserve, just as parents deserve, to know that the drinking water is safe.”

Legislature speaker Linda Reid issued a statement Tuesday saying water systems are tested frequently and daily flushing of cold water taps is recommended. The legislature supplies filtered water to coolers in offices throughout the building.

 

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