A few Vancouver schools still need to operate "trickle programs" on some of their water fountains to ensure lead levels don't exceed permissible levels.
Trickle programs, where water continuously dribbles out of the fountain spout, ensure students don't drink stagnant water with higher than acceptable lead levels.
Nine schools-Simon Fraser, McKechnie, Strathcona, Tennyson, Ideal Mini, John Oliver, Total Education, Prince of Wales and Vancouver Technical- have some fountains with stagnant water that would exceed health guidelines if a trickle program wasn't in place, according to recent testing.
Some of the problem fountains will be disconnected at the end of the school year, likely bringing down the total number of schools operating trickle programs to less than half a dozen.
"At some of the schools-it's not the whole school that may remain on the trickle program, it's just one or two fountains," explained Bill Ostrom, the Vancouver School Board's manager of operations. "The reason those one or two fountains are still on [the program] is they might be at the end of a long line. They could be in an isolated area. Because they're not being used, that's why they're coming up higher on the lead content."
Maintenance departments have been asked to shut some fountains off at the end of the year, which means several schools will drop off the trickle program. "However, there may still be four or five schools that remain on the trickle program because there could be some fountains that are more heavily used or more out in the public. We can't shut a fountain down if the kids have nowhere to drink," Ostrom said. "So what we do is put those fountains on the trickle program and the water is safe to use. Then those [schools] go on the list for maintenance to try to deal with over the next little while."
Trickle programs have operated for years at some of the district's oldest schools. Lead was used as a solder for pipe joints in the plumbing system when they were constructed.
Small amounts of lead can slowly dissolve from the old lead solder into the standing water in the plumbing system over long periods of time if the water is not used.
To minimize the risk of dissolved lead in older plumbing, school fountains were modified to trickle to keep the water flowing.
Improvement to the water supply system in recent years has made the water less acidic, which has also lowered the risk.
Vancouver Coastal Health raised concerns about water quality and adherence to the trickle program at a few sites in a 2009 report.
The VSB questioned some of the findings, noting a few of the schools inspected had updated plumbing and weren't required to operate the trickle program, but the district conducted follow-up water tests through an independent laboratory in the fall of 2011.
Those findings determined that all VSB schools generally met Health Canada requirements of a permissible level of less than .01 mg per litre without use of the trickle program, but the nine schools had some remote area fountains with stagnant water that exceeded the guidelines without the use of the trickle program.