Managing Lead in Drinking Water
January 14, 2020
With recent media attention on lead in drinking water in Canada the Plumbing and Mechanical Advisory Council (PMAC) of the Canadian Institute of Plumbing & Heating has developed informative fact sheets highlighting the challenges of having lead in drinking water, what lead is, how it can affect your health as well as the recommended actions when managing lead in drinking water.
What is lead?
Lead is a naturally occurring substance in our soil, food and air. While lead can leach into drinking water from lead service lines and plumbing, the bulk of human exposure is from other sources
What is the standard for levels of lead in drinking water?
The Canadian government’s (Health Canada) maximum acceptable concentration of lead in drinking water is 5 micrograms per litre or 5 parts per billion. Because there is no level below which lead is not associated with neurodevelopment effects in infants and children, levels of lead in drinking water should be kept as low as reasonably achievable. The current /Ontario Drinking Water Quality Standard for lead is 10 micrograms per litre or 10 parts per billion.
How does lead get into drinking water?
In general, water that is treated and distributed in municipal systems is lead-free. Water leaves the municipal treatment plants and travels through the ‘water mains’ (the large pipes down each street) lead-free. However, drinking water can come into contact with lead in the ‘service lines’ (the pipes that connect each property to the water main). Lead can also be found in plumbing materials in the home, such as lead pipes, brass fittings, and lead solder.
What should I do if I live in a building with lead pipes/lead service lines?
Recommended actions from your local Public Health Unit may include:
1. Contact your local City or Town
Find out if your City or Town has a lead service line replacement program
2. Test your water
You can have your water tested through a private laboratory to determine lead levels. A list of commercial licensed laboratories that test for lead in drinking water can be found on the Ministry of the Environment, Conservation and Parks’ website at: http://www.ontario.ca/page/laboratories-licensed-test-lead
Some municipalities and public health units have a free testing regime in conjunction with the local waterworks department, contact your local public health unit or waterworks utility to inquire.
3. Flush your pipes
Has water been sitting in your pipes for several hours? Run the tap until it is cold (about one minute) before drinking or cooking with any of the water from the tap.
4. Use cold, flushed water for drinking, preparing infant formula and preparing food
Only use cold tap water for drinking, preparing infant formula or cooking, since hot water increases the leaching of lead and other metals from your plumbing. Regularly clean aerators on taps used for drinking water and food preparation.
5. Replace brass fittings and lead water service pipes
Brass faucets and valves can contain some lead. These can be replaced with fittings that are certified to the standard on low lead content. Replace lead water service pipes, fixtures or solder present.
If you opt to use a water treatment device, ensure that it is certified to remove lead from the drinking water. CSA B483.1 or NSF 53 certified devices that have specific lead removal claims developed. CSA B483.1 is referenced and supported in the plumbing code in all jurisdictions in Canada.
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How do I get more information?
For additional information, you can refer to your local municipalities. You can also refer the Health Canada’s document, “Drinking water: what about lead?”