Time to open the floodgates

Published on January 13, 2016

Kate Lowe pumps water for Mary Soucy and Andrew Hrickyw at Ecole St. Augustin in this recent file photo. The school goes through over 200 water bottles every three weeks from five water stations throughout the school.

©HEATHER TAWEEL/THE GUARDIAN

Opposition MLAs are calling on the province to open the floodgates on the results of water tests within P.E.I. schools.

Rustico-Emerald MLA and environment critic Brad Trivers said the province should be releasing the data following a delayed timeline regarding a water quality issue in Rustico’s École Saint-Augustin.

Last June, a test at the fiveyear-old school showed uranium, arsenic and sodium at levels above what’s considered safe for drinking.

Staff and students at the school have been drinking bottled water since then while the Education Department and French Language School Board work on installing a water filtration system.

“I do believe the department is trying to fix the issue, but they have been a little lax on the urgency of it. Six months is too long,” said Trivers.

“Parents have just been dealing with it. There are two reasons for that. One is the government said they’re fixing it so they didn’t complain. The second thing is that I don’t think all parents were necessarily aware of what’s going on.”

Brad Samson, director of corporate services for the French Language School Board, said there was no “quick fix” for the situation.

“We’d love for things to go much faster, but there are certain tests and controls in place that require time,” he said.

“We are satisfied it’s being dealt with as expeditiously as possible.”

While there was a delay in parts arriving for the filtration system, Samson said those should be in within a week.

He said the system should be installed within about two weeks.

“Then we’ll have to make sure it is functioning properly and we’ll have to run tests on the water before we take out the bottled water,” he said.

“We believe everyone involved is putting in their best effort to have the situation returned to normal. For the students themselves, we are still supplying bottled water and making sure they do have safe drinking water available.”

École Saint-Augustin is the second Island school in the past several months to have water quality issues.

In the fall, students at Somerset Elementary School in Kinkora had to drink bottled water for several weeks.

That incident prompted opposition members to call for the release of all water test results, which Trivers said the government has released on a “need to know” basis in recent years. “(After the election) we were hoping we’d see a change in this with a default of ‘let’s make it all available.’ I think they’re fighting that within the government,” said Trivers.

“I think it’s a top down thing and it’s really an attitude change that has to happen.”

While Trivers acknowledged all infrastructure needs ongoing maintenance and occasional repairs, he said it was important to publish water test results to keep parents informed.

“Then, if they have questions about what it’s like they can go online and see the results, instead of hearing about it through the grapevine,” he said.

Publishing the data in an open way would also allow residents to analyze it in looking for trends, he said.

For example, Trivers said if every school’s water quality tests were public it may show trends of which areas are most affected and which schools may need to be addressed in the future.

The department has said it is exploring the possibility of posting those results online.