Delta schools have lead levels back under control after re-piping that took place over the summer. (Grace Kennedy photo)

Lead levels now under control in Delta schools

In 2016, tests showed 132 of the 295 drinking fountains and sinks had high lead levels pre-flushing

Delta schools have lead levels back under control after testing last year revealed higher than acceptable amounts of the heavy metal in drinking water.

“We’ve covered all the bases,” Frank Geyer, director of facilities and planning for the Delta School District, said.

“We’ve been proactive,” he continued. “We realized that there was an issue and we jumped on it very quickly.”

In February 2016, the provincial government mandated that all school districts test the water in schools built before 1990 for lead levels. Delta sampled drinking fountains and classrooms sinks at all schools built before 1990 in May, 2016.

According to a presentation put together by Geyer, 132 of the 295 drinking fountains and sinks had unacceptable lead levels pre-flush, and six had unacceptable levels after flushing. (Flushing means letting the water run through the pipes for at least two-minutes before testing, to remove any standing water in the pipes.)

Related: Testing shows lead concerns in water at Delta schools

The heightened lead levels were because of lead-based solder used on copper pipes prior to 1990.

The affected schools pre-flush were: Annieville Elementary, Chalmers Elementary, Gray Elementary, Jarvis Traditional Elementary, McCloskey Elementary, Sunshine Hills Elementary, Hellings Elementary, Heath Traditional Elementary, Gibson Elementary, Devon Gardens Elementary, Richardson Elementary, Holly Elementary, Cliff Drive Elementary, Ladner Elementary, Hawthorne Elementary, Port Guichon Elementary, Delview Secondary, North Delta Secondary, Sands Secondary and Delta Manor Education Centre.

A majority of the affected schools were in North Delta, but Geyer said that’s because of when the schools were built.

“There were more schools that were built in North Delta in the early ’70s than were built in South Delta,” Geyer said. “I think it’s just a case that there’s a lot more schools in the North that were built around the same time.”

In August 2016, the Delta School District launched what Geyere called “an aggressive program” to replace piping in 86 fountains and two staff room sinks. Forty-four other drinking fountains that were in close proximity to re-piped or lead-free fountains were decommissioned.

“I wouldn’t call it easy,” Geyer said about the re-piping. The school district had to reroute the water fountain supply and install plastic pipes that connect directly to the main water supply. Originally, the water for the fountain flowed through the bathroom pipes, past a number of lead-soldered joints.

“At the time it was an accepted way of doing it, but as it turns out it meant that you had possibly more exposure to lead by doing it,” Geyer said.

The way the pipes are now, “you’re getting your clean water directly from the main distribution site through the plastic pipe, which has no soldered joints,” Geyer said.

The school district also did additional re-piping in kitchens and canteens at Annieville, Chalmers, Gray and McCloskey; in medial rooms at Cliff Drive, Gray, Hellings, Jarvis, Port Guichon and Sunshine Hills; as well as the resource rooms in Burnsview, Port Guichon and Sands. These all resulted in a re-piping of almost the whole room.

The re-piping and decommissioning cost $229,600 and was funded by the Ministry of Education’s School Enhancement Program. Signs were added to sinks in classrooms, advising that the water was not intended for drinking.

During the re-piping, each school received a new combination drinking fountain/water bottle refilling station, installed with plastic pipes.

“We figured there was an inconvenience factor for that time while we did re-pipe,” Geyer said. “As a reward for having to deal with these — and also the fact that we’re telling people not to take water from sinks in washrooms … — [it was decided] that we should make sure every school has a water bottle filler station and a drinking fountain.”

The combination fountains that were installed at each school cost a total of $48,000. This was funded by the district.

“We wanted to make sure it was a district expense, not a school expense and not a PAC expense,” Geyer said. Schools that want more than one combined fountain can fundraise or apply for one through district sustainability initiatives.

The Delta School District will start re-testing schools for lead this coming spring. The provincial government has mandated that all schools built before 1990 be tested every three years. Delta has decided to test a third of the schools in the district every year.

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