WA to adopt national system to test water for lead in schools

Stock image.
Stock image.

THE WA Education Department says it is supporting a nationally-agreed sampling protocol for testing water to mitigate the risk of lead contamination in schools.

The Federal Department of Health is working with states and territories to mitigate the risk of lead contamination in schools stemming from plumbing products.

A Health Department spokeswoman said the Environmental Health Standing Committee (enHealth) has tasked its Water Quality Expert Reference Panel to develop nationally-agreed sampling protocols for water testing inside buildings and guidance to mitigate the risk in schools.

“This work is currently underway with the expectation that the protocol will be available prior to the commencement of the 2019 school year,” she said.

The spokeswoman said enHealth had also engaged with Australian building authorities and Standards Australia to review Australia’s regulatory arrangements to ensure plumbing products do not adversely affect water quality.

“State and territory plumbing regulatory agencies, who oversee the installation of plumbing fittings, are already working through the Australian Building Codes Board (ABCB) to address this issue at the national level,” she said.

“The ABCB’s work includes research to determine the extent that plumbing products may contribute to lead levels in drinking water in excess of the health-related guideline value in the Australian Drinking Water Guidelines.”

At the start of the 2018 school year bottled water was handed out to students at 11 new West Australian schools after elevated lead levels were detected at some schools.

The testing regime was implemented in the wake of ongoing lead problems at Perth Children’s Hospital which was blamed on the brass fittings in pipes being exposed to stagnant water.

Concerns the same brass fittings at the centre of the lead problem could have been used in schools also led the State Government to institute flushing of school water systems before the start of each academic year, to minimise the risk of elevated lead levels.

An Education Department spokeswoman said the flushing program will continue during the summer holidays.