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Supply ‘safe’ drinking water at schools now, Yukon NDP tells Liberals

Yukon NDP leader is calling on government to provide drinking water now and explain later
Water runs from a faucet on May 16, 2024.

It’s up to the governing Yukon Liberal Party — not the kids — to bring "safe” drinking water to all Yukon schools pending effective remediation of lead contamination, according to the Yukon NDP. 

That’s why the party is demanding that the territorial Liberals provide drinking water for students and staff at schools now. 

Parents have been advised to send drinking water with kids when they go to school. Principals have been told to flush lead-contaminated water from fountains and faucets every morning before students arrive. 

“Students and staff need safe drinking water at school. If that means bringing in water until it’s safe to drink from the taps, then that’s what the Liberals have to do,” Yukon NDP Leader Kate White said in a press release on May 13.

An email statement from Education department communications staffers confirmed the department is advising principals at some schools to flush their still-operational water fountains every morning to get rid of stagnant water as the department deals with the lead issue.

“In the meantime — for the remainder of the school year — the Department of Education will ensure all schools have access to safe drinking water,” reads the statement. “If needed, bottled water will be provided for students. Some schools have requested that students bring water from home to reduce the need for bottled water.” 

The statement from the department noted that step one — deactivating all drinking fixtures that don’t meet national guidelines — is nearly done. The second step, which involves hiring an external contractor to test the drinking water in every school, is underway. 

The department expects the testing to be completed by mid-summer.  

Water test results will be posted online, and fixtures that don’t meet standards will be remediated, with the goal to get all that work done before the bells ring for the next school year, the department wrote.  

Lead pipes, faucets and plumbing fixtures are the primary culprits of sources of lead in drinking water.

In 2018, the Yukon government started checking for lead in water in older schools, built before 1990, which may contain plumbing materials made of lead. The next year, tests were conducted at the remaining schools.  

“Any fixtures that had unsafe levels of lead were replaced to meet the safety standards of that time,” reads the government website. 

Later in 2019, Health Canada brought in stricter rules for lead in water, bringing down the limit from 0.020 to 0.005 milligrams per litre. 

After two students found elevated lead levels in the water at Del Van Gorder School in Faro as part of a science fair project and following a review of 2018-19 test results of water fixtures, the Yukon government recently announced it will be further testing and possibly remediating water fixtures at 30 schools. The review found that at least one water source in almost every Yukon school doesn't meet the revised federal guidelines.

READ MORE: Student science fair project prompts water quality testing at 30 Yukon schools

“We found that some schools might have water fixtures that do not meet these new standards,” reads the website.

“To fix this, the Department of Education will re-test water fixtures in the affected schools to make sure they meet the new guidelines. We aim to finish any needed repairs before the next school year starts to keep disruption low and continue keeping our schools safe.”

The website notes that water fixtures that don’t meet the safety standards have been shut off.  

“We are making sure that all schools have sources of safe drinking water,” it states. 

According to a letter sent to Education Minister Jeanie McLean, the Selkirk Elementary School Council is aware that 28 fountains and faucets in the school exceed current lead-level standards. It expects urgent action on the matter.

READ MORE: Riverdale school council demands minister act swiftly on water lead levels

Meanwhile, Jack Hulland Elementary School had recommended that students bring water from home to school due to lead levels in that school’s drinking water fountains.

The Yukon government website cites Dr. Sudit Ranade’s advice that there’s “no short-term risk to health associated with water fixtures with lead levels slightly above the national standards. These standards are based on exposure to lead over a lifetime.”  

Children get water from many different sources. Drinking specifically from these fixtures won’t be enough to significantly alter their health or development, per the Yukon government website. 

A document on the Health Canada seems to challenge that notion. 

“As science cannot identify a level under which lead is no longer associated with adverse health effects, lead concentrations in drinking water should be kept as low as reasonably achievable,” reads a document prepared by the federal-provincial-territorial committee on drinking water. 

“In schools and daycares, it is recommended that total lead be monitored, at least once per year, at each of the drinking water fountains or cold water taps where water is used for drinking or food preparation.” 

In British Columbia, school districts must test for lead at all school facilities every three years, according to the B.C. government website. 

Back in the Yukon, the Yukon NDP is calling on the governing party to take action now and explain when happened later. 

“It’s appalling that the Liberals have allowed lead-contaminated water in Yukon schools for five years,” White said. 

“They need to supply safe drinking water for students and staff at all Yukon schools until it’s safe to drink out of the taps. Then they can tell Yukoners why they’ve let that contamination slide since 2019.” 

Contact Dana Hatherly at 

Dana Hatherly

About the Author: Dana Hatherly

I’m the legislative reporter for the Yukon News.
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