Lead in Grey County School Water: What You Should Know

In early November, a report was released on an investigation into the lead levels in the water of many Ontario schools and daycare facilities. Several schools in Grey county were listed as exceeding federal guidelines. You can find the list of local schools and more info here, or view the original news report based on the joint investigation by Global News, The Toronto Star, the Ryerson School of Journalism and Concordia University’s Institute for Investigative Journalism.

What follows is an overview of the acceptable levels (which varies depending on who you ask), why lead is bad for you, how testing works, and what to do.

What are Acceptable Lead Levels?

The province of Ontario sets the acceptable level of lead in water as 10 parts per billion. Federally, however, Health Canada sets the acceptable level to 5 parts per billion. Which is right? Arguably neither, as the World Health Organization says there is NO safe level of lead.

Of particular concern is that this is school and daycare water. Health officials say children are particularly vulnerable to the long term effects of lead, which can include negative effects on cognitive development, IQ levels, and overall health. This paper by the Canadian Pediatric Society agrees. This study, from Duke University, found that for each 5 microgram increase in blood lead, a person lost about 1.5 IQ points.

The best rule, then, is that lead is bad. Period.

The report earlier this month used the federal rating (the more conservative), and found that nearly a third of all schools and daycares in Ontario have been above the 5 pbb threshold for the past two years. Old lead taps and fountains are the main culprits.  

In Grey County, Owen Sound District Secondary School and Beaver Valley Public School top the list in our region with a lead level that’s 60 percent higher than the federal standard. That means they’re within provincial guidelines, but over federal ones.

How to Test for Lead Exposure

There are three main ways to test for lead exposure in the body–blood, urine, and hair. Each has its advantages.

Testing blood levels is easy, and is the gold standard for diagnosis of lead exposure. Urine tests can also show exposure, but they have some limitations because not all forms of a heavy metal like lead are easily excreted. With children, a urine test can be a good estimate to determine a current exposure, but not a substitute.  

Hair analysis is somewhat different in that it shows exposure over a three month period. Where a blood level or urine level might miss a chronic low-grade exposure, a hair test is more likely to pick it up.  

What to Do?

Dealing with environmental toxicity always starts with the same first step: avoid exposure. If you’re concerned about your school or daycare, don’t drink the water at school. Bring a water bottle from home. 

The body has natural systems for removing lead from the body–for a low exposure, this is often enough. A good diet and the right supplementation can help support those systems.

For greater exposures, a process called chelation can be used–you’ll need an experienced, regulated medical professional to help.

If you have questions about testing existing lead levels, or about detoxification and chelation approaches to lead exposure, contact the clinic at 705-444-5331 for more information, or book an appointment online.