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article imageLead in some Canadian's drinking water worse than Flint

By Karen Graham     Nov 4, 2019 in World
Montreal - Hundreds of thousands of Canadians have been unwittingly exposed to high levels of lead in their drinking water, with contamination in several cities consistently higher than they ever were in Flint, Michigan, according to a year-long investigation.
This was not an investigation by the Canadian government that exposed the size of this public health issue - but a year-long investigation involving 120 journalists from nine universities and 10 media organizations, including The Associated Press and the Institute for Investigative Journalism at Concordia University in Montreal.
The journalists collected test results that properly measure exposure to lead in 11 cities across Canada. Out of 12,000 tests since 2014, fully one-third, 33 percent, of the test results exceeded the national guideline of 5 parts per billion; while 18 percent exceeded the U.S. limit of 15 ppb, reports the Statesman Journal.
Global News Canada is reporting that in Prince Rupert, a city of almost 12,000 people in northwestern British Columbia, 84 percent of the 25 homes tested for lead in drinking water exceeded the federal guideline of 5 ppb set by Canada. One home measured 15.6 parts per billion of lead — three times Health Canada’s guideline.
Volunteers load cases of free water into waiting vehicles at a water distribution centre at Salem Lu...
Volunteers load cases of free water into waiting vehicles at a water distribution centre at Salem Lutheran Church in Flint, Michigan, on March 5, 2016
Geoff Robins, AFP
Sarah Rana, 18, went to a high school in Oakville, a town on the shores of Lake Ontario. She wasn't alerted to the high levels of lead in the school's drinking water, with one test reporting a lead level of 140 ppb. She found out on her own, looking at reports posted online.
"I was getting poisoned for four years and did not know about it," she said. "As a student, I think I should be told."
Montreal Mayor Valérie Plante found out the results from the analysis by the journalists and vowed to test 100,000 homes for lead and speed up the replacement of lead-lined pipes immediately.
The media group filed over 700 Freedom of Information requests and took hundreds of samples in people's homes to collect more than 79,000 water test results. But strangely enough, their findings are not comprehensive nor an indication of overall drinking water quality in Canada. This doesn't exist.
"Because there is no federal oversight, everybody does what they want," said engineering professor Michèle Prévost, who quit working on a government study of school drinking water in frustration over the lack of lead testing. "Most provinces ignore this very serious problem."
Ildar Sagdejev
In the U.S. the Environmental Protection Agency sets legal standards under the federal Safe Drinking Water Act. Every person is supposed to receive a report every year on July 1 from their water provider attesting to the safety of their drinking water.
In Canada, there is no routine testing or notice - with the exception of the province of Ontario - bordering the U.S. and the Great Lakes, which post results online. And the consortium also found that daycares and schools in Canada are not tested regularly - and if they are tested, the results are not made public.
Virginia Tech professor Marc Edwards, whose study of the Flint water system helped reveal the dangerous lead levels, reviewed the Canadian media consortium’s findings. “This is a significant health concern, people should be warned,” said Edwards. “Something should be done.”
Bottom line? According to the Associated Press, "Canada is one of the only developed countries in the world that does not have a nationwide drinking water standard."
More about Canada, Drinking water, lead levels, Concordia University, journalism students
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