School board debates water bottle ban, official defends safety of London tap water

Tuesday, April 7th, 2009

Thames Valley District School Board trustees voted last night on eliminating the sale of bottled water in its schools, as part of an environmental-conscious initiative.

If the TVDSB follows through on the initiative, they will be the third school board in the country to do so.

Disposable plastic water bottles has become one of the latest focuses of environmental advocates, as many institutions work to remove its sale and distribution from their establishments.

The University of Winnipeg last week held a referendum that concluded with the decision to stop selling bottled water on campus. They are the first Canadian university to take this step.

“What happens with bottled water is that it undermines people’s trust in public water, which is absolutely safe and absolutely clean,” Vinay Iyer, president of the University of Winnipeg Students’ Association, said.

“We never had bottled water a few years ago,” he added.

“The amount of waste produced by plastic water bottles is immense and the associated carbon footprint of producing those bottles is also substantial,” Will Bortolin, EnviroWestern co-ordinator, said.

“Extremely effective marketing has painted bottled water as being somehow special, despite the fact that most people can’t accurately tell the difference in a blind taste test,” he added.

Representatives of the City of London want to emphasize municipal tap water is perfectly safe to drink, despite recent local news coverage that suggests otherwise. In a recent study published in the London Free Press, 25 out of 100 homes failed to meet health testing in a recent study.

“We have a situation out there where 25 per cent of the people in London think they should be concerned about lead and it’s not the case at all. It’s specific services, in older neighbourhoods,” John Braam, division manager of water operations for London, explained.

Braam noted that individuals in these areas would already be aware of any risks with the services they depended on.

“We put out a very ardent education and awareness campaign that sends out information to anyone that is in that part of the city,” he said.

“The water supply that we receive for the City of London comes from two sources. Along each road there is typically a water main that’s associated with that major road. In the old part of the city there are a number of services that run from these services into homes, that were made out of lead.”

According to Braam, the construction of these services out of lead was discontinued after the early 1950s.

Braam estimated there are approximately 105,000 services in the City of London and of these only about 8,000 are lead services.

“Of all the of the lead-based services tested, under the worst conditions, there was maybe 25 per cent of those services that were presenting concern from a lead-corrosion perspective,” he said. “That’s less than two per cent ,really, of all of our services.”

Braam stated that the city is addressing this issue from three different angles.

“First and foremost, with education and awareness. Second, we addressed this by correcting the situation as quickly as possible. We implemented a pH control. It has been very effective in reducing the average concentration of the lead in the select number of lead serviced homes,” he explained.

When these services were tested in 2007, the average lead concentration was 13.5 micrograms. Last spring it dropped to 6.6, and last fall it was about 7.7 micrograms. Braam explained the increase was expected.

“At increased temperature, corrosion rate will be affected,” he said.

The third angle to reduce lead concentration from these specific services is to remove and replace the lead services.

“We’re doing that at a significant rate,” Braam stated.

Bortolin noted that eliminating the sale of bottled water from schools will not prevent students from bringing their own. Bortolin also hopes this initiative will force students to think about the environmental impact these bottles have.

“With bottled water being so prevalent, people never second guess the logic behind it; anything that makes it less prevalent is a step in the right direction,” he concluded.

Share this article on:

Facebook | DiggDigg |

Copyright © 2008 The Gazette