Some central Alberta school districts want more information about how to test for lead contamination in school water. (Black Press file photo).

Chinook’s Edge wants more details from the province about testing school water for lead content

How should it be done, and who pays to fix a problem, district officials wonder

Chinook’s Edge School Division is seeking provincial government clarification around lead testing on school water.

The district is sending a letter to Alberta’s ministers of education and health requesting more details about how school divisions should deal with the possibility of old pipes causing dangerous quantities of lead to leach into school drinking water.

Education Minister Adriana LaGrange reached out to school divisions across the province last week to say Alberta Education will work with them to address any water quality concerns.

She stated Alberta Health can provide more direction in terms of what kind of mitigation methods to take if a problem is found.

LaGrange’s letter comes on the heels of a Canada-wide study that found many schools and day cares, as well as Canadian households, had drinking water with a dangerously high lead content.

This was largely attributed to old lead water pipes that were installed in buildings before 1965, and lead soldering on pipes used before 1985.

Shawn Russell, associate superintendent of corporate services for Chinook’s Edge, is interested in learning more details about what the province is recommending school districts do.

“Should we be testing all schools, or just ones beyond a certain age?” he asked. “And do you test every water source when you do a sample?”

If a school’s water is found to be high in lead content, how will corrective action be taken — and who will pay for it, questioned Russell, whose district operates out of Innisfail.

School districts get annual maintenance funding from the province, but replacing lead pipes in even one school can be very costly.

Russell said about 15 district schools were built before 1976. Some of these buildings have since had upgrades that could have included water pipe replacement, so the age of a school isn’t necessarily an indicator of a potential problem.

“Our buildings are well maintained, but we would rather err on the side of caution,” added Russell.

So far, he said Chinook’s Edge hasn’t had any concerned calls from parents.

The Red Deer Public School District has spoken to City of Red Deer experts about water testing after the study raised concerns about lead contamination in many public buildings.

According to municipal experts, water testing should be done during the warmer months — between June and September — to get a more accurate sense of lead levels, said Bruce Buruma, community relations director for Red Deer Public Schools.

After checking on when pipes were changed in older schools, Buruma said any needed water testing will be done next spring, in partnership with the city.

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