In April 2013, Acadia launched a water quality testing regime across its campus. While Acadia receives its water from a municipal water source and is not obligated to test its drinking water, we felt that it was prudent to do so in order to establish baseline data. We found that at all locations tested, Acadia’s water met Health Canada’s drinking water quality parameters except for one – lead. We found lead levels in many locations that exceed the Health Canada Maximum Acceptable Concentration (MAC) guideline.
Lead in drinking water is not a problem that is unique to Acadia. Many public facilities, including many other Canadian university campuses, have experienced this problem. It is not a problem that can be corrected easily or quickly and it can arise as a result of many factors. However, there are many activities that can eliminate lead or reduce its presence to levels below Heath Canada’s MAC guideline. Since May 2013, we have been actively involved in mitigation and re-testing to ensure we fully understand the extent of the problem and the effectiveness of our mitigation efforts.
- Water fountains: All drinking water fountains that are in service on our campus have been tested and have shown to be providing water that meets the Health Canada guidelines. Additional new fountains (with integral lead reducing filters) have been ordered and will be installed in two key public spaces: Festival Theatre and the Athletics Complex.
- Food preparation: At campus food/beverage service locations, flushing protocols and lead-reducing filters are being used to help ensure that water for consumption meets the Health Canada guidelines.
- Cold water: Health Canada advises that water used for consumption (drinking, food preparation and brushing of teeth) should be drawn only from a cold water tap. This applies at all locations, including on campus, at home, when travelling, etc. Warm or hot water has a greater likelihood of having an elevated level of lead and should be avoided for consumption.
- Residences: In residence buildings, when drawing water for consumption, all users are advised to flush the cold water tap for at least 5 seconds. This is good advice for all locations, including at home, when traveling, etc.
- Lounge areas: At locations such as lounges and kitchenettes in academic/administrative buildings where 10-minute local flushing protocols have been implemented, it is very important that they be continued.
- Monitoring: The members of Acadia’s Joint Occupational Health and Safety Committee and Water Quality sub-committee/working group have been and will continue to be consulted on our water quality measures.
Improving Water Quality
- April 2013: To establish baseline water quality data, initial sampling was performed in 11 campus buildings.
- May 2013: Pinchin LeBlanc Environmental delivered its report on the initial April sampling. At all locations sampled and tested, the water met all of Health Canada’s drinking water health parameters except for one – lead. At some locations, lead was found at levels above Health Canada’s maximum acceptable concentration (MAC). Health Canada‘s August 2012 Guidelines for Canadian Drinking Water Quality Summary Table says, “Because the MAC is based on chronic effects, it is intended to apply to average concentrations in water consumed for extended periods. Exposure to lead should nevertheless be kept to a minimum.”
- May – Dec 2013: Extensive mitigation, sampling and testing occurred in all campus buildings. Several steps were immediately taken to ensure the safety of drinking water, including:
- implementation of daily flushing protocols to reduce the stagnation time (the length of time that the water lies in the plumbing systems, where it could be exposed to lead that might be present),
- installation of special lead reducing filters on beverage dispensing units and drinking water fountains, and
- placement of “For hand washing only” signs at locations where the water did not meet Health Canada’s MAC guidelines.
- February 2014: Recently, we turned our attention to verifying the effectiveness of the daily flushing protocols in residence buildings. Our verification testing confirmed that, in the majority of cases, the initial water drawn at those locations was below the Health Canada MAC for lead. This demonstrated that our daily flushing protocols, combined with normal building usage, are largely effective. However, there were still some locations where the initial water drawn for these verification tests was above the Health Canada MAC guideline for lead.
Further sampling and testing, intended to understand how we could achieve greater control and confidence in all residence buildings, has been completed. From this, we have learned something very important. At all residence locations sampled, we learned that a five second flush, in combination with the daily building flush, was very effective and it reduced the lead levels to well below the Health Canada MAC guideline. We are issuing instructions to all residents in our residence buildings to follow this five-second flushing procedure in order to help reduce the presence of lead to levels below Health Canada’s MAC guidelines.