High lead levels in Winnipeg - the NDP coverup - and the lack of measurements of blood lead levels in lead affected areas in Winnipeg
On Wednesday, October 2 in Estimates, I asked the Minister of Health (Mr. Cameron Friesen) about the testing of children and adults in Winnipeg to see if people in Winnipeg were treated comparably to people in Flin Flon when testing was done there at a time when there was concern over high lead levels. It is particularly important to check lead levels in children in areas where they may be exposed to lead in the environment because there is good evidence now that public health interventions, done early, can improve outcomes in children who have high lead levels, while the lack of such public health interventions may result in children with learning or behavioural issues. As you will note from the Minister's response, he focuses on the NDP coverup of information on lead levels, but he fails to answer my question as to whether lead levels were measured in children in lead affected regions of Winnipeg. My question and the Minister of Health's response is below.
Mr. Gerrard: Lead has been a particular issue in some areas of Winnipeg. In testing of the situation in Flin Flon, there were a number of children who were tested around the playing fields or the schools which were affected by high lead levels and some of those children were found to have high lead levels.
So I'm asking the minister whether in fact there has been any testing of children or adults in areas around the areas in Winnipeg and Weston School and St. Boniface where there have been high lead levels to see if the children or adults have got high lead levels and to see if this is a problem.
Mr. Friesen: Health and public health has, of course, worked very collaboratively on this issue with Sustainable Development when it comes to the lead-level testing in soil the–to the which the member refers. I'm pleased to see NDP members in the Chamber, because, of course, they were complicit in a cover-up when it came to these schoolyards. The members of the NDP knew and took deliberate steps to not disclose levels of lead in the soil at the Weston School playground.
Members of Cabinet at that time interfered–and I will say this–interfered in a process to disclose to Manitobans. A website had been developed to disclose to Manitobans these dangerous or over levels of lead in soil. And that website was unceremoniously turned down before it ever went live. I am shocked that the media in this province has not paid more attention to the issue.
To the member's particular concerns, whether justice will ever be done on that account for the people who live in those areas, I don't know. We have worked in collaboration. It was our government who disclosed these levels. It is our government, under the direction of the Minister for Sustainable Development who undertook to additionally study these levels. It is our minister who undertook to disclose those levels in a proactive way to Manitobans. We have worked collaboratively.
The public held–the Chief Provincial Public Health Officer who was acting told me that there is no imminent threat; there's no dangerous level in this area, at the school ground or community ground. I asked that individual if he would have helped–felt comfortable for his children to go play in that playground, and he said, absolutely and without qualification.
To the member's questions about whether in future there should be more substantive work undertaken to test for lead levels in people, well, I think we would have to be careful to develop a evidence-based and scientific-based examination of this before we assign causality. We would have to understand what other contaminants in the area of the city there might be unrelated to the levels in excess that we saw at these hotspots.
The member also understands, as the–I know the Minister of Sustainable Development (Ms. Squires) will be able to provide further clarification of these matters when she is herself in the Committee of Supply. But we know that the work to denotate the locations of testing going back to the 1990s, I believe, when the first testing was undertaken–could have been the '90s–it was not exceptionally scientific in the location.
We know how critically important that is now in modern soil testing. So we're essentially going back to site and trying to decide, on the basis of landmarks, where we should be taking the next soil site–sample from. And that's very unprecise. Not to say that further work couldn't be undertaken, but I would direct that member to make further questions to the Minister of Sustainable Development, who, I know, will only be too happy to answer those questions because she herself really took this issue seriously, undertook to do the work to undo the calamity of the cover-up of the NDP in respect to this file.