Posted on 12/13/2019

The Ottawa-Carleton District School Board takes the health and safety of students and staff extremely seriously. In accordance with expanded provincial lead testing requirements in 2017, all designated drinking locations in OCDSB elementary schools were tested in 2017 and 2018 and we anticipate that the expanded testing in secondary schools will be completed in 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. Typically, lead can leach from older water mains, piping or water fixtures. While measures have been taken to update systems, a risk still exists.

Provincial law requires water used for drinking or cooking to contain no more than 10 parts per billion of lead. The Safe Drinking Water Act, 2002, O.Reg 243/07 2017 amendments require school boards to expand specific water testing practices in relation to lead.

How is testing completed?

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.

If the exceedance is only in the standing sample, but the flushed sample is acceptable, then a daily flushing regimen is adopted.

If both samples exceed the provincial standard, the water fixture is taken out of service to respond to the problem. This could include replacement of the fixture or, in some cases, moving further back through plumbing lines.

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. We will not return a fixture to service until lead levels in drinking water are below provincial requirements.

How are testing results shared?

Lead testing results and actions to address issues found are shared with the Ontario government, Ottawa Public Health and are posted on the District websiteTests results for 2019 are in progress and will be posted on the Board website as soon as the information is compiled and formatted. The 2019 test information is available at the individual schools.

Principals and OCDSB staff regularly communicate with parents about a variety of issues that may be taking place in the school or community. For example, we would inform parents about a service disruption to the school, such as repairs needed, and actions being taken to address it. Regarding lead testing, a letter may be sent to notify parents about a sample exceedance and the implementation of a bottle water program until the problem was rectified. We have also had occasions where we have received questions about new fixtures not being put into service immediately after installation. Parents are then informed that the fixture cannot be used until it has been tested and cleared for use. There have also been occasions where a water fixture is bagged and put out of service until the problem is rectified, but other fixtures in the school are unaffected. In these cases, we may not send a notification beyond what is sent to the Ontario government, Ottawa Public Health and the District website.

What is the testing schedule for the OCDSB?

In accordance with expanded testing requirements in 2017, all designated drinking locations in OCDSB elementary schools were tested in 2017 and 2018 and currently meet legislated requirements.

The majority of testing for designated drinking locations at all OCDSB 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. These additional locations will be tested in May 2020 and once the testing for these additional locations is complete, testing for secondary schools will be finalized.

Each subsequent year we are required to take one representative test at one designated drinking location within the school.

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 six hours.

Does the board have a plan to move toward meeting the new 2019 Health Canada guidelines (Maximum Allowable Concentration of 0.005 mg/l) instead of the provincial guidelines (0.010 mg/l)?

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.

Where do the test results 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.

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 morning? 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 the piping in schools?

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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