Get the lead out - The Orca

Get the lead out

Jody w Glasses 1

How are filters not getting changed at school drinking fountains…despite red warning lights…for months?

From the “are we really still talking about this” file: VSB still has issues with drinking water in public schools.

Just over a year ago, lead in school drinking water was a BC political football. It was a long-known fact that BC schools had a water problem; last year the numbers were crunched: 120 schools reported unsafe levels of lead in their fountains.

That’s 25% of BC schools. Swallow that.

Rightfully swift and severe, parents and political hopefuls alike pressed and questioned how this extremely fixable problem wasn’t a massive priority.

We can’t find a way to repair old pipes at public schools? Why would this issue not be moved up the to-do list?

Eventually the issue got hot enough to hit the radar of a meeting of Vancouver School Board trustees for a vote.

On September 28th, 2018, trustee Carrie Bercic put forward a motion to “re-pipe and install water bottle refilling stations in schools.”

It passed. Great. But wait.

Fast forward almost exactly one year later. My son asked me to remind him each day to “fill up and take” his reusable water bottle to school.

A bit of an odd request from a kid who’s almost single-handedly stocked the school lost-and-found. He seemed genuinely concerned.

“Mom, the water bottle filling stations at school have been showing the ‘red replace filter’ lights on every single fountain since the end of school in June.”

To quote most of those his age: “Wait. What?”

“The water bottle filling stations have been showing the ‘red replace filter’ lights since June.”

Ours is a very first world water problem as my kid’s elementary school happens to be a seismically upgraded new build. We know that our lead pipes (and asbestos) are history. But these red lights on new filtration systems are a big fat red flag on how we service (or fail to) our schools?

If we can’t trust that filters are being regularly changed – especially given a visible red warning light – can we really believe the lead pipe problem is being taken care of?

I’m going with no.

The Middle seems hard to find here, but there is one: repair what is really broken – the urgency in upkeep at our schools.

Stories of bureaucracy getting in the way of getting things fixed are all too common. The red tape is far too thick – and there’s no reason for it.

We’re all told to drink more water, stay hydrated, and how our tap water is the best water in the world. So let’s get this right — right now.

At the very least, parents should be informed of any trace lead in school water. It should be a no-brainer that newly installed filtration systems should be maintained, and filters should be replaced.

“It should be a no-brainer.”

The VSB has publicly stated that all drinking fountains in Vancouver schools meet Health Canada guidelines of fewer than 10 parts per billion (PPB) of lead in water — as a parent, I’d like it closer to zero.

If communication on this file remains rooted in protecting outdated bureaucracy, at the very least parents should be informed enough to know to send kids to school with water not tainted by even the most minute amount of lead – and explain to kids to refrain from the fountain.

It would be great if we simply get this fixed, for good, so we can take it off the “are we really still talking about this?” list.

We have the technology…and filters.

Jody Vance is a born and raised Vancouverite who’s spent 30 years in both local and national media. The first woman in the history of Canadian TV to host her own sports show in primetime, since 2011 she’s been working in both TV and radio covering news and current affairs.