NDG parents worry after unacceptable lead levels found in Marc-Favreau school's water

As soon as Mara Mioto heard officials were testing water for lead contamination at her children's elementary school in Montreal's west end, she began sending them to school with water from home.

But her worry was piqued when the Commission scolaire de Montréal (CSDM) sent a letter to parents this week confirming that some water sources at Marc-Favreau school on Somerled Avenue in Notre-Dame-de-Grâce have tested positive for lead contamination higher than Quebec's new limit.

Mioto has one child in Grade 6 and another now in high school who attended Marc-Favreau.

"I am going to talk with the pediatrician and test them, to see the level of lead in their blood," she said.

Lead is usually found in drinking water after it leaches from old lead pipes that carry the water into a building or remain in the building's plumbing system.

Though only some of the water sources proved contaminated in Marc-Favreau, the CSDM says all of the school's drinking fountains are now turned off, and students are to avoid sipping water from any tap until the situation is fixed.

To do that, specialists need to first figure out exactly where the lead is leaching into the water, according to the CSDM's director general, Robert Gendron.

"It could be just changing the nozzle, or changing the whole system ,depending on where the lead comes from," he said.

Lowering the acceptable limit

In March, Health Canada cut the acceptable concentration of lead in drinking water from 10 micrograms per litre to five micrograms per litre. Quebec announced last month that it would be the first province to adopt the new guideline.

Gendron declined to say how many micrograms of lead were found in Marc-Favreau school's water.


Next week, tanks will be brought into the school to offer students fresh, uncontaminated water, the board says. Students will be encouraged to bring in their own, portable water bottles.

'It's a big concern'

After the letter went out to parents this week, students were given water bottles as a temporary measure.

Mioto said she started sending her kids to school with their own bottled water as soon as she heard the testing would be done, a couple months ago.

Previous tests had come back negative, and the school had reassured parents that everything was fine — making this week's announcement even more of a surprise, she said. Even if the problem is fixed, she said she still won't trust the school's water sources.


Another parent, Hoa Ann, said she wants more information before jumping to conclusions.

"Is it dangerous?" she asked. "I really can't say, in my opinion, but I am worried."

The is glad the board is testing schools' water and acting on that information, but she said, "I hope it won't happen again."

Schools continue to test for lead

The CSDM says it is working closely with the regional health authority and continuing to test water at all of its schools.

Gendron said 16 schools have so far been tested, and Marc-Favreau's results were the first to come back positive. Quebec has ordered schools to test water and make any needed repairs before June.

The CSDM oversees 191 schools, employs some 17,000 people and services more than 114,000 students.

In a study made public last summer, Quebec's public health research institute (INSPQ) found 16 per cent of schools in Montreal have at least one faucet or water fountain contaminated by lead.