School water quality addressed with flushing

A water flushing program has been successful in reducing the amounts of lead and copper in the water supply at Kitimat public schools.

A water flushing program has been successful in reducing the amounts of lead and copper in the water supply at Kitimat public schools.

On April 6 a joint announcement from the Coast Mountains School District and Northern Health alerted parents that elevated levels of copper and lead was found in test samples of area schools.

Those schools affected are Nechako Elementary, Kildala Elementary, Kitimat City High and Mount Elizabeth Secondary School.

However, despite the presence of the minerals in the water, it is believed that even without the flushing that it is not expected to produce any adverse health effects, due to the “sporadic nature of water consumption in the school setting.”

It is believed that the source of the minerals is old plumbing. Plumbing installed prior to 1990 is known to leech the material into water that sits in the pipe — which is why flushing the water works at bringing the quality up.

In a Frequently Asked Questions document prepared by Northern Health they say that the worst case scenario, developed by the BC Centre for Disease using pre-flush water samples, students would only be ingesting just under 50 per cent of the daily tolerable lead intake, taking into consideration all other sources of lead.

As for the copper, they say that guidelines more frequently relate copper levels to things such as taste and odour, and that there are currently no health guidelines in relation to copper levels in water.

“The likelihood of any long term health effects from copper in the drinking water is very low,” the FAQ continues.

Coast Mountain Board of Education Chair Art Erasmus said that the flushing program has worked well on water quality since the issue was discovered.

“If you take the standing water that’s in the pipe and flush it out then the new water from the water supply comes in…and it hasn’t had time to leech any copper and lead into it yet,” he said.

He pointed out that this is an issue that exists everywhere in Kitimat with plumbing older than 1990.

Northern Health’s Chief Medical Officer Dr.  Ronald Chapman told the Sentinel that the flushing program is internationally accepted as good practice.

He said that the first water samples were taken from Nechako Elementary when staff there began to question water quality when fish living at the school were not thriving.

“The concentrations certainly were not high enough to cause any toxic symptoms,” he said.