Government of New Brunswick
What water testing program is currently in place?

The New Brunswick Department of Education and Early Childhood Development (EECD) has developed a protocol for testing lead levels in the drinking water from fountains in all NB district schools. This collaborative initiative involves each New Brunswick school district, as well as the Departments of Health, Environment and Supply and Services.  The goal of this testing program is to reduce the exposure of students and staff to lead and ensure safe and healthy learning and working environments. This initiative does not replace or conflict with existing and ongoing testing programs.


Why is this initiative relevant at this time?

This program was initiated in response to the water quality conditions recently discovered on Fredericton university campuses. Although drinking water is not considered the most significant source of exposure to lead in Canada, lead can leach into drinking water when in contact with a building’s older plumbing fixtures, such as fountains. There continues to be a need to reduce low level environmental lead exposures in Canada. The current advice from Health Canada is that all Canadians can benefit from minimizing lead levels and that there is no identified threshold for adverse effect.


What is the Enhanced Lead Testing Program?

Water sources in our schools come from either municipal water systems or artesian wells, both of which are checked on a regular basis, according to government guidelines, for inorganic particles, such as lead, and microorganisms, such as bacteria.


How was the sampling carried out in the schools?

Two samples are taken from each fountain early in the day after water has sat for at least 8 to 24 hours. First the water is sampled without flushing. This is a “first grab”, “Tier 1” sample. A second sample follows after 30 seconds of continuous flushing and is the “Tier 2” sample. Lead results obtained from water sampling may vary due to several conditions including the method of sampling, flow path of water within the building, and the time that water sits stagnant in the system.

The purpose of sampling in this manner was to obtain a snapshot of the conditions of the drinking water within each school.

The test results require careful interpretation since the concentration of lead can vary considerably over time and certain fountains may remain unused for longer periods of time according to the natural pattern of events within a school.


What standards are being followed to determine whether or not action is required?

Once a district’s test results have been finalized, Education and Early Childhood Development and the school district will coordinate required actions with the Departments of Health, Environment and Supply and Services as needed.

The standard for the maximum acceptable level of 10 micrograms per litre (10 µg/L) of lead in drinking water  is based on Health Canada’s Maximum Acceptable Concentration (MAC) and follows the Guidelines for Canadian Drinking Water Quality established by Health Canada and the NB Department of Health’s, Health Advisory Level for drinking water (HAL).


How immediate is the health risk from exposure to lead?

The manner and seriousness of the adverse health effects of lead exposure varies greatly by the extent, timing, and length of exposure. The MAC and HAL standards are intended to apply to average concentrations in water consumed for extended periods (decades); short-term consumption of water containing lead at concentrations above the MAC/HAL does not necessarily pose excessive health risks.


What actions are being taken in the event of lead levels above the standards?

If analysis of the fountain drinking water shows levels of lead higher than the maximum acceptable levels, the identified water fountains will be deactivated and further investigation will take place. If there is need, the school will receive bottled water until the issue has been resolved.


Will other metals show up when the water is tested?

Yes, if they are present at detectable levels. The lab’s sensitive analysis will detect and identify 14 metals, such as lead, copper, and others if they are present at measureable levels. In a few drinking fountains to date, copper and antimony have also been detected. Public Health monitors all test results and will advise if the level for a particular metal will have a health impact and the specific fountain will be taken out of service until an appropriate solution is found. 


Is there a plan for follow-up testing?

Although there was an intent at the time to add another layer of monitoring, once the testing program was completed, and all observed fountain and sink lead exceedance issues were resolved to the satisfaction of NB Public Health, it was determined that Health Canada’s existing Clean Water Act testing program for schools on wells was more than adequate with respect to monitoring. Additionally, for those schools on municipal water systems, the municipalities’ separately regulated and monitored water programs were deemed sufficient. The website had not been updated since the summer of 2013 and the information found here may be out of date.


Does Public Health review the test results?

Public Health will review all school results to determine if there is any action needed beyond the replacement or improvement to the existing water delivery system.


Will parents be informed of the test results?

Parents will be informed of school results through the district. This will occur once the district sampling has been completed and the department has received the results and initiated recommended action.


When is my school district participating in the enhanced testing program?

Every school district in the province will be participating over the coming months. School districts have been asked to provide information to EECD concerning the number and specific locations of each fountain. Once this information is received, an order of the districts will be established and each will be informed about its participation in a timely manner. Given the current nature of this program it is difficult to predict the exact time districts will be tested.

The Analytical Services lab is working very closely with the process and is accommodating as many water samples during the work week as possible. With due consideration to the many tasks required of this facility, if the lab’s daily testing capacity changes, this program will benefit. The enhanced testing program is working to ensure that each district will be completed in a timely manner.


Is there a source of additional information?