Water crisis: Minister was warned bottled water would cause undue alarm

Water crisis: Minister was warned bottled water would cause undue alarm The West Australian Public health officials warned Education Minister Sue Ellery that handing out bottled water at schools may spread undue alarm but she insisted it was the right decision yesterday “because we’re talking about children”.
The first day of school was thrown into disarray for hundreds of students, parents and teachers when they were told water at their new schools may be contaminated, in the latest lead fiasco to grip the State’s public infrastructure.
After concerns about lead in stagnant water and leaching from construction materials at Perth Children’s Hospital in October, Ms Ellery ordered taps to be flushed during the long summer break at 809 established schools, and for 11 newly built schools to be tested.
She blasted the Department of Education and the Department of Finance’s Building Management and Works arm yesterday for failing to come up with a testing regime to clear all the new schools in time for the first day of first term or advise her last week that a delay in results was possible.
As parents slammed the Government’s communication over the affair and the teachers’ union demanded the testing regime be widened to all recently built schools, Ms Ellery said it was “the right thing to do” to hand out bottled water because that was what parents would want.
The extraordinary intervention came despite Ms Ellery emphasising that a harmful lead intake could only accumulate after continued exposure over a long time and that none of the five schools that had elevated levels had tested positive at drinking fountains — only activity sinks and gardeners’ taps.
Testing had cleared one school, Fremantle College, while the remaining five schools’ results had not come back.
Adding to the confusion, Ms Ellery initially told reporters that bottled water would besupplied to all 11 schools, but her office later clarified that water would only go to the five schools awaiting results.
Bottled water was not necessary at five schools with positive results, which were returned in initial but not later tests, because the “non-drinking” sinks and taps had been isolated and turned off.
“Even though the health officials would say ‘You do not need to, and in fact you should not provide alternate sources of water because you run the risk that you’ll make this into something bigger than it is’, I had to make a decision,” Ms Ellery said.

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