News release

Government Advisory Group to Monitor School Drinking Water Tests

ENVIRONMENT/LABOUR--Government Advisory Group to Monitor School Drinking Water Tests


The Department of Environment and Labour announced today, June 14, that it will lead an interdepartmental advisory group to oversee the ongoing testing of well water at Sir John A. Macdonald High School and 13 schools in the area.

The chair of the Special Advisory Group on Drinking Water Testing said the team, in consultation with Health Canada, will focus on establishing protocols for the remaining water tests, including how often the tests should be performed, and for communicating the findings to the students, teachers and residents in the testing areas.

"Clearly this is an important issue for the communities, and it will be our job to make sure that the tests being conducted conform to the recommended Health Canada guidelines," said Pat Wall, senior radiation health officer for the Department of Environment and Labour and chair of the new advisory group.

The committee will include representatives from the provincial departments of Health, Environment and Labour, and Education, along with a specialist from Health Canada.

If required, the advisory panel will also recommend methods for treating water that may be found to contain levels of naturally occurring radionuclides that exceed Health Canada's drinking water guidelines.

"It's important to remember that treatment methods are available for removing naturally occurring radionuclides to bring well water within safe drinking limits," Mr. Wall said. "Trace amounts of radionuclides are found everywhere -- in Nova Scotia, across Canada and around the world."

Meanwhile, the latest lab tests of the drinking water at Sir John A. Macdonald submitted last week found that the level of lead-210 is well below Canadian drinking water guidelines.

"This is an encouraging result, but we'll need to continue testing in order to get a complete picture," said Mr. Wall.

Lead-210 is one of several naturally occurring radioactive by- products of uranium.

As part of its mandate, the advisory group will oversee the testing now underway at the 13 schools. These tests for naturally occurring radionuclides in well water were requested May 29 by the Department of Education and the Halifax Regional School Board as a precautionary measure following earlier test results that found levels of lead-210 at Sir John A. above Canadian drinking water guidelines.

The results from the screening tests at the 13 schools indicated that, according to Health Canada guidelines, more detailed tests of certain radionuclides, including lead-210, will be required.

The province's medical officer of health, Dr. Robert Strang, has been involved in the testing and confirms there is no public health risk for people to drinking the water during the period of the investigation.

Mr. Wall cautioned that screening tests are used only to determine if more comprehensive testing is needed: they do not give an accurate indication of health risks.

"Screening tests are very vague," Mr. Wall explained. "They're snapshots and are simply used to determine if more thorough testing is needed. In other words, they're not meant to tell us if the water is unsafe to drink."

The 13 schools are Brookside Junior High, Tantallon Junior High, Tantallon Elementary, Terence Bay Elementary, Atlantic Memorial Elementary, East St. Margaret's Elementary, St. Margaret's Bay Elementary, Harrietsfield Elementary, Sambro Elementary, William King Elementary, Herring Cove Junior High, Prospect Road Elementary and Hammonds Plains Consolidated.

FOR BROADCAST USE:

The Department of Environment and Labour will lead an advisory group to oversee the testing of well water at Sir John A. Macdonald High School and 13 schools in the area.

The Special Advisory Group on Drinking Water Testing will work with Health Canada. Its role is to make sure that the tests being conducted conform to Health Canada guidelines. It will also communicate the findings to the students, teachers and residents in the testing areas.

The committee will include representatives from the provincial departments of Health, Environment and Labour, and Education, and a specialist from Health Canada.

The group was formed following concerns about levels of lead-210 found in drinking water at Sir John A. Subsequent testing has shown that the levels are now within Health Canada guidelines for safe drinking water but that further tests will be conducted.

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Contact:

Robert Moffat
Environment and Labour 902-424-6427 E-mail:
Robyn McIsaac
Department of Education 902-424-3757 E-mail:
njm            June 14, 2002       2:00 P.M.