PORT HAWKESBURY: Officials with the Strait regional centre for education (SRCE) are continuing to monitor the water quality at its schools.

Just before the holidays, the province announced it will provide drinking water to 324 public schools until lead testing in all schools can be completed. These include 284 schools not yet tested for lead and 40 schools that were tested and require drinking water.

Health Canada lowered the acceptable level of lead in drinking water and introduced new testing guidelines. The guidelines indicate the testing can only be done in warmer weather. Testing began in Nova Scotia schools in fall 2019 and will resume in spring 2020, with the goal of having all schools tested by the end of the current school year.

As a result of the update to the “Guidelines for Drinking Water Quality” for lead and copper, SRCE coordinator of communications, Deanna Gillis explained that a new testing protocol for lead and copper was implemented in all 20 schools in the region.

To implement this new testing protocol, Gillis said a third-party service provider and an accredited lab were contracted by the SRCE to do the sample collection and analysis. Testing included potential potable drinking and cooking water sources (including cold water faucets and fountains) at all schools. Samples were drawn in October and early November.

Gillis said schools that did not exceed acceptable levels of lead or copper were: Antigonish Education Centre; Dalbrae Academy; East Antigonish Education Centre/Academy; Fanning Education Centre/Canso Academy; Felix Marchand Education Centre; H.M. MacDonald Elementary School; Richmond Education Centre/Academy; and Tamarac Education Centre.

According to Gillis, schools which had excessive levels of lead or copper were: Bayview Education Centre (lead only); Cape Breton Highlands Education Centre/Academy (lead only); Chedabucto Education Centre/Guysborough Academy (copper only); Dr. John Hugh Gillis Regional High School (lead and copper); East Richmond Education Centre (lead only); Inverness Education Centre/Academy (lead only); Pleasant Bay School (lead and copper); SAERC (lead only); St. Andrews Consolidated School (lead only); St. Andrew Junior School (lead only); St. Mary’s Education Centre/Academy (lead only); and Whycocomagh Education Centre (lead only).

As soon as SRCE officials were made aware of the results, Gillis said affected water sources were turned off, signs were posted and alternative sources of water (such as coolers and bottled water) were provided.

“When results were received, immediate action was taken the same day,” Gillis told The Reporter. “These interim corrective measures will remain in place until the source of the lead and/or copper has been determined and long-term solutions implemented.”

In addition, Gillis said the SRCE sent letters to students, staff and families advising them of the change to Health Canada’s guidelines for lead and copper (including a link to the Health Canada news release), sources tested at the school, the results of the testing, and interim corrective measures put in place.

Follow-up retesting of the sources that exceeded the maximum allowable concentration for lead or copper will take place this month, Gillis said. Phase 2 will include investigating the source of the lead or copper, such as plumbing infrastructure inside the schools like taps, aerators and fountains. Then they will implement a remediation plan.

Gillis said testing will resume in the spring of all remaining cold water faucets not previously tested such as includes washrooms, janitor closets, labs, and locker rooms.

The SRCE is following testing protocol set out by the Environmental Protection Agency and Health Canada Guidelines, and is working with partners like the Department of Environment, as well as the Department of Education and Early Childhood Development, Gillis added.

“The health and safety of our students and staff is our top priority,” Gillis said. “The SRCE has been in compliance with Health Canada Guidelines and provincial regulations all along and will continue to be in compliance.”