Frequently Asked Questions
1. What is a "designated drinking water source"?
Designated drinking water sources are water sources designated for consumption such as:
- Water fountains
- Bottle filling stations
- Taps in kitchens, food preparation areas, staff rooms and childcare areas
Please note that as recommended by the Ministry of Environment, Conservation and Parks, fixtures are represented by letters and numbers. The letter T represents tap, F represents fountain and B represents bottle filling station.
2. Is the water in TDSB schools safe to drink?
Yes. Drinking water in our schools is safe to drink. We follow Ontario regulations by annually testing, from May to October, our drinking water sources for levels of lead and flushing our plumbing on a regular basis to ensure the highest quality of drinking water.
3. I work in an administration building for TDSB. Are the fountains in my building required to be tested?
Children up to six years old are more sensitive to the effects of lead because they are still developing, and their small bodies can absorb lead more easily than adults. That is why the legislation is written for schools and childcares. Buildings that house a full-time childcare or an alternative school for students under the age of 18 are required to be tested.
4. What is the process for annually testing drinking water sources?
As per our protocol and according to provincial regulations, the TDSB tests drinking water sources for lead at its 583 schools on an annual basis, from May to October. This is in addition to the water testing conducted by the City of Toronto.
To test the water, two samples are taken: one is a “standing water” sample, which is taken from the tap/bottle filling station after all the water has been sitting for a minimum of six hours. The other is a “flushed” sample that is taken after running the tap/bottle filling station for a minimum of five minutes and letting it sit for 30 minutes.
Samples are sent to an independent lab certified by MECP.
5. What is considered an “exceedance”?
Ontario schools are subject to provincial regulations (Ontario Regulation 243/07). Based on this regulation, lead concentrations above 10 ug/L (micrograms per liter) are considered exceedances.
6. What happens if there is an exceedance?
When there is an exceedance in the “flushed” sample, the fixture is taken out of service to eliminate any potential risk to occupants of the building. Re-sampling or replacement of the fixture is done in accordance with the standards set out by Ontario Regulation 243/07.
When there is an exceedance in the standing sample, that specific fixture will be flushed daily.
The TDSB ensures a safe drinking water source is available within the school while individual fixture exceedances are being investigated or addressed.
7. How often are drinking water sources flushed at TDSB schools?
Based on sampling results specific to your school, there are three options:
- The school conducts weekly flushing on Mondays.
- The school conducts weekly flushing on Mondays, and specific individual fixtures require daily flushing.
- The school conducts daily flushing, Monday through Friday.
8. Does the TDSB inform parents when there is an exceedance?
The provincial government doesn’t require school boards to notify parents when exceedances occur. However, when an exceedance impacts the entire plumbing system and the school is placed on an alternate drinking water method (e.g. water bottles), principals notify parents. These cases are rare because usually, only individual fixtures are impacted.
When an individual fixture is impacted (e.g. it needs to be replaced) and it is taken out of service, the school principal is informed, but no notification will be sent to parents. However, the TDSB will ensure that all students have access to a safe water source nearby.
In either instance, the principal is notified, and a corrective action is taken.
9. Does the TDSB test water for any other substances?
The City of Toronto’s water treatment facilities are some of the best in the world. The city is responsible for regularly testing the water supply that goes to your house, schools and other public institutions (e.g. hospitals, colleges and universities, etc.)..
As outlined in Ontario Regulation 243/07, school boards are responsible for annually testing drinking water sources, from May to October, for lead inside the schools.
10. Why is it important to test drinking water sources for lead?
Lead found in tap water usually comes from the corrosion of older fixtures or the solder that connects pipes. In certain circumstances, extended contact between standing water and these components can cause the lead to be released from the pipes.
When the tap is turned on, water that has been standing in the pipes may have accumulated lead levels that exceed Ontario’s standard for lead.
11. Do the pipes servicing TDSB buildings contain lead? If not, where does the lead come from?
Toronto Public Health states that TDSB Buildings are not serviced by lead pipes, as buildings with more than six units do not have lead pipes, regardless of age. Lead is too soft to handle the pressure needed for these types of buildings.
However, it must be understood that lead is a naturally occurring element. Lead has many industrial uses and has been found in water systems since the late 1800s. It is also present in soil, food and indoor dust. Over the past few decades, exposure to lead has significantly decreased because of restrictions in the use of lead in gasoline, paint and solder.
Ontario’s surface and groundwater generally does not contain lead. If lead does occur naturally, the concentrations are typically extremely low and below the drinking water standard for lead. Where there are concentrations of lead in drinking water above the standard, the likely cause is from lead pipes servicing the premises, lead solder used in the plumbing, or fixtures containing high percentages of lead.
The amount of lead leaching into drinking water from plumbing components depends largely on the chemical characteristics of the water. In certain circumstances, extended contact between standing water and the components can cause the lead to be released from the pipes. When the tap is turned on, water that has been standing in the pipes may have accumulated lead levels higher than Ontario’s standard for lead. Flushing has been shown to reduce lead levels in drinking water fixtures. That is where flushing comes in; by flushing plumbing and fixtures, water that may have come in contact with lead plumbing is replaced with fresh water.
12. Why were the changes introduced by the provincial government in 2017?
On July 1, 2017, the Ministry of Environment, Conservation and Parks (MECP) formerly known as the Ministry of Environment and Climate Change amended Ontario Regulation 243/07 (Schools, Private Schools and Child Care Centres) under the Safe Drinking Water Act, introducing new requirements for the annual testing, from May to October, of drinking water sources.
Under previous provincial legislation, the TDSB tested nearly 600 fixtures each year. Under the revised regulation (Ontario Reg. 243/07), approximately 11,000 fixtures needed to be tested. As a result, the Board identified which fixtures were for drinking water or food preparation and which fixtures were not.
The TDSB, similar to other school boards, decided that, for annual testing purposes, from May to October, most classroom taps would not be designated as drinking water sources for consumption. It's important to note that all students and staff have access to a nearby safe drinking water source.
As part of the amendments to Ontario Regulation 243/07, school boards were required to sample all designated drinking water fixtures over a period of three years for elementary schools and five years for high schools. Once the three or five-year period is over, and unless new amendments to the regulation are introduced, school boards will be required to sample a minimum of one fixture per school, per year.
13. Why are the “Handwashing only” signs displayed on some fixtures?
While the source of water is the same throughout the building, the “Handwashing only” signs are a visual indicator that these fixtures are not considered 'drinking water sources' and are not tested for lead. Instead, these fixtures/taps are to be used for hand washing and other classroom purposes only (e.g. washing brushes used in art classes or lab pipes).
14. Where can I find the water test results for my child's school?
On each Individual school landing page, there is a link on the left side entitled ‘Annual Safe Drinking Water Test Results’. When selected, the link will take the visitor to a new page that explains the process of collecting drinking water samples and how to interpret the results. On that page is the list of the test results for lead levels in drinking water for that individual school. For those who visit school web landing pages, they will also find information that clarifies actions taken, timelines, resources required and various other communications that explain the process to test the safety of drinking water in our schools.
15. Who can I contact for additional information?
If you have questions regarding drinking water in our schools, please contact your child’s school.