Perth schools directed to flush water pipes over lead contamination concerns

Stock image.
Stock image.

THE Department of Education has directed all schools across the State to thoroughly flush all water pipes supplying drinking water to reduce the risk of potential lead contamination.

Schools have been asked to work with cleaners and gardeners to ensure the pipes supplying water to drinking fountains, sinks and wash hand basins are flushed within three days prior to the start of the school term on Wednesday.

The new measure follows concerns raised by ChemCentre’s chief executive Peter McCafferty that WA schools were at risk of lead contamination because water was often left stagnant in pipes over the summer holidays.

Mr McCafferty raised the concerns at a parliamentary inquiry last year into the Perth Children’s Hospital which examined a suite of problems that have delayed the opening of the $1.2 billion hospital, including lead contamination in the drinking water.

The State Government has blamed the brass fittings in pipes exposed to water left stagnant during commissioning for the hospital’s lead contamination.

Mr McCafferty told the inquiry the same brass fittings at the centre of the lead problem could have been used in schools.

Education Minister Sue Ellery However said while there was no evidence of elevated lead levels in the water at schools, she had asked the Education Department to introduce two new initiatives as a precautionary measure.

“Following the comments made by the ChemCentre Chief Executive, the Chief Health Officer, who has responsibility for the health of students in our schools, publicly advised a stringent risk management approach is in place and it did not require changing,” she said.

“Schools are not vacant for the whole summer holidays and therefore there is no water stagnation in the pipes, which was the concern raised by the ChemCentre Chief Executive.

“School gardeners, cleaners and administrative staff including school officers, IT staff, social workers and communication officers work at schools at various times during the school holidays and are turning on taps and using bathrooms.”

Ms Ellery said under the new measures, an extensive flushing regime would be undertaken at newly constructed schools.

“For new schools opening in 2018, in addition to the current water quality analysis, the water will be tested for lead,” she said.

“At existing schools, the second new initiative is a requirement that all drink fountains and wash hand basins are flushed to ensure any residual water is cleared before school students return.”

Ms Ellery said the Health Department has indicated that there had been a reduction in lead levels in children over the past 20 years.

Shadow Education Minister, Donna Faragher welcomed and supported the directive to all schools that water must be thoroughly flushed through pipes in advance of the school year commencing.

“The water should be checked and if any problems are found then it must be acted upon immediately,” she said.

The Education Department has been contacted for comment.

According to the Education Department website five new primary schools will open in the Perth metro area this year in Wandi, Piara Waters (Aspiri PS), Aveley (Aveley North PS), Meadow Springs (Oakwood PS), Southern Grove PS in Southern River and Wellard.

Two new high schools will open this year, Aveley Secondary College and Yanchep Secondary College.