Frequently Asked Questions - Lead Testing Program (1)

Frequently Asked Questions - Lead Testing Program
Posted on 06/11/2021
Frequently Asked Questions - Lead Testing Program

Ensuring access to safe drinking water is one of the safety practices in place at the Ottawa-Carleton District School Board. Any fixture installed for water consumption purposes must be tested for lead prior to use in accordance with The Safe Drinking Water Act, 2002 and OReg 243/07 2017 amendments.

In accordance with provincial legislation, all designated drinking locations in OCDSB elementary and secondary schools were tested between 2017 and 2020. All of our schools are currently in compliance with provincial legislation and regulations.

We can appreciate parents may have questions about lead in water systems, which is why we have produced the following answers for you.

Why is testing being done?

Trace amounts of lead in water can be harmful to children and adults. Ontario law requires water used for drinking or cooking to contain no more than 10 parts per billion of lead. Under the Safe Drinking Water Act, 2002, O.Reg 243/07 2017 amendments required school boards to expand specific water testing practices in relation to lead.

How do you test water?

Tests follow established guidelines in two steps. The first test is taken of standing water (unused for six hours). We then run the water fixture for five minutes (a procedure called “flushing”) and take another sample a half hour later. This is done as lead contamination in even minor levels can occur as water sits in pipes overnight.

What happens if lead is found in the test?

If water samples are found to exceed the provincial standard, action is taken to address the problem. The specific action is based on the results of the water sample. For example, if the exceedance is in the standing water sample only, and the sample after flushing water is acceptable, then a daily flushing regimen is adopted. If both the standing water and the sample after flushing exceed the provincial standard, the water fixture is taken out of service to respond to the problem, in accordance with provincial regulations. 

Water fixtures are not returned to service until lead levels in drinking water are below provincial requirements. If fixtures are taken out of service, they are made inaccessible through signage, turned off and are only put back into use once we have been able to obtain satisfactory test results. Addressing issues could include replacement of the fixture or, in some cases, moving further back through plumbing lines or adding a lead filter. 

What is the testing schedule for the OCDSB? 

The majority of testing for designated drinking locations at all OCDSB elementary and secondary schools was completed in 2019. Following the initial round of testing, schools were provided the opportunity to bring forward any additional designated drinking locations to be tested. The final group of additional locations were tested in May 2020 and the initial testing for all schools has been finalized.

Each subsequent year we are required to take one representative test at one designated drinking location within the school. All new fixtures installed are tested in accordance with the provincial regulation prior to being put into service.

When is testing being done?

Testing is to be done between May and October each year. 

How does the resampling protocol work?  What is required for a fixture to be deemed within the provincial limits? 

Sampling requires that the water be undisturbed in the pipe for a minimum of six hours.  If a sample fails the initial standing water test, the resampling can only be done the following morning to ensure that the water is undisturbed. When re-testing a designated drinking fixture, two consecutive flushed samples having results within acceptable limits are required before the fixture can be put into service. 


What is the length of time, not flushed, that water is considered to be standing water? Is it possible that if lines are flushed at 6:30 in the morning by the afternoon less used or infrequently used sources are once again at standing water levels.

A minimum of six hours with no water use is required for the standing water test. With an occupied school, it is highly unlikely that the water distribution system within the building would meet the standing water testing requirements.  Designated drinking locations and all other water locations are connected to the same potable water system.  In order to meet the standing water requirements, all fixtures (toilets, urinals, handwashing sinks, designated drinking locations, etc) would have to remain unused for a minimum of 6 hours.


Does the board have a plan to move toward meeting the new 2019 Health Canada guidelines (Maximum Allowable Concentration of 5 ppb) instead of the provincial guidelines (10 ppb)?

The Board is required to remain compliant with current provincial legislation. If thresholds within the legislation change to a new concentration level, we will be quick to adopt the new standards. 


The OCDSB has been proactively replacing drinking fountains that exceed the Health Canada recommendation of 5 ppm and are within the Ontario requirements of 10 ppb.


Where do the test result come from and who verifies the information?

Test results are from an independent certified testing lab governed by the province. The testing program is also overseen by Ottawa Public Health. 

Are the test results publicly available?

Yes. Our testing results and actions to address issues found are shared with the Ontario government and Ottawa Public Health and are also posted to the OCDSB website. Tests results for 2020 are in progress and will be posted on the Board website as soon as the information is compiled and formatted.  The 2020 test information is available at the individual schools however.

What assurances do we have that the flushing process is being done regularly?

The flushing is performed and then logged on a daily basis. Flushing records are to be kept for 5 years minimum.


What is the quality assurance/control/checking system for the flushing regimen? Is the information publicly available?

All flushing is recorded through a central system. If the flushing is not recorded, the supervisor gets a notification that it has not been completed and they follow up with staff at the site. The log is not publicly available as it’s on an internal system but we have the ability to show and share information as requested.

Are there No Drinking signs on all other taps and water sources?

Fixtures not designated as drinking locations are posted with “Hand Washing Only” signs.

Is there a longer flush on Monday am? Is there a longer flush after vacations?

The flushing requirements are established based on Ministry guidelines and do not vary based on the duration of standing water. 

Has the board looked into replacing older piping. I am afraid flushing the water is a temporary solution.


Flushing is a recommended solution from the province as it is intended to expel standing water which may have absorbed any lead during the migration from the City source to the final fixture. Total replacement within a building of all piping, fittings or fixtures that may contain lead would be prohibitively expensive and incredibly invasive.

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