UWA Professor calls for water filters in all WA public schools after lead scare but Education Minister won’t be drawn

Stock image.
Stock image.

EDUCATION Minister Sue Ellery is refusing to comment on a recommendation by a leading university expert to install filters on drinking fountains at all public schools in WA to eliminate any potential lead contamination.

UWA Professor Environmental Engineering Anas Ghadouani said ageing infrastructure and poor-quality brass fittings was contaminating students’ drinking water.

“This has taken authorities by surprise and I don’t think authorities in WA, Australia or even around the world are aware of the problem,” he said.

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“Firstly, it wasn’t until 1989 that Australia banned all pipes containing lead, so that means there are a lot of schools built before then that will be leaching lead into the water.

“Secondly, with the new schools’ inferior parts using lower grade metals which contain impurities, including lead, could have been installed.

“There is no doubt lead is leaching into water points at schools from fittings containing lead.”

Prof Ghadouani said it was not a complicated or expensive problem to fix.

“This problem can be fixed in no time flat by installing a simple water filter on all drinking sources in schools; it will remove all traces of lead, chromium and zinc, and any other trace metals,” he said.

“You can’t say we tested and this is compliant because as infrastructure ages it leaches lead.

“This will be an ongoing issue that will grow in magnitude as time goes on.”

Prof Ghadouani added flushing schools at the start of each new year would not eliminate lead.

“It may get rid of pathogens like bacteria that breed in warm, stagnant water, but will do nothing to get rid of lead,” he said.

“If you have a nugget of lead leaching in the pipes it will do that forever.”

Prof Ghadouani said while Australia was a signatory to an international covenant banning plumbing parts containing any lead, cheaper or lower grade parts were being shipped from countries that are not signatories.

“The legislation is very clear, there should be zero lead or lead source in any plumbing past 1989,” he said.

“But it is very difficult to check whether plumbing products are lead-free.

“Many of our neighbouring countries who we do business with are not in the accord, so we could have lead in paint, parts that are painted or raw metals. It could be anywhere really.”

Prof Ghadouani said it was time to examine all the parts in circulation and recall those containing lead to protect public health.

“There needs to be pre-approval or a sticker that shows the product is free from lead, and all products should have identification, so that they can be tracked back to the manufacturer,” he said.

“Some of these parts coming in don’t even have numbers.

“Any time you have product that has no code or way to trace its source or where it was made you shouldn’t install it or buy it.”

Prof Ghadouani said students’ health needed to be protected because the World Health Organisation deemed there is no known level of lead exposure that is considered safe.

“There is very little data about real exposure to lead,” he said.

“It is known it is a neurotoxin that reduces brain function and that even small amounts of lead can cause serious health problems.

“Children particularly are vulnerable to lead poisoning, which can severely affect mental and physical development.

“This lead scare is a wake up call that we need to have a broader look at new and old schools.”

Ms Ellery also declined to comment on whether she would extend the lead testing regime to all public schools in WA or whether she would investigate if brass fittings containing lead were installed at new schools.

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