Do you have lead in your tap water? What you can do to find out in Ontario

WATCH: Would it surprise you to know drinking water in some Canadian cities contains unsafe levels of lead?

Testing your water is the best way to learn whether there’s lead in it. 

Older homes those built more than 40 years ago are at greater risk because they are more likely to have lead plumbing. (You can find your home’s year of construction by consulting your property assessment. In Ontario, the Municipal Property Assessment Corporation also does assessments.

Lead was used as a material for water pipes until 1975 and in solder used to join pipes until 1986. Until 2014, faucets and hardware could contain up to eight per cent lead. Note that galvanized steel pipes can also leach lead into drinking water.

How do I check the pipes inside my home to see if they are made of lead?

You can look at the pipes and solder joining pipes anywhere they are visible in your home. Lead is grey in colour, will not attract a magnet and can be easily scratched with a knife or key. The scratches will appear silvery rather than coppery. You can also ask a plumber or home inspector to check for you.

WATCH:
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The faucets need to be replaced. What should I look for when I’m buying new ones?

When buying a faucet, check whether it’s been certified as lead-free by a third-party certification body like the International National Sanitation Foundation or the CSA Group. The faucet’s packaging should indicate that it complies with the NSF/ANSI 61 or NSF/ANSI 372 standards.

Is there anything I can do right away to reduce my family’s exposure to lead?

A water filter certified for lead should remove lead to undetectable levels.

Make sure that lead is listed on the package and look for filters certified by the International National Sanitation Foundation to the NSF/ANSI 53 or NSF/ANSI 58 standards. Install filters at all faucets used for drinking or cooking. Be sure to replace the cartridges regularly as instructed.

You can also run the water at your kitchen faucet for a few minutes before using, especially when you get up in the morning or after returning from work or a vacation. Always use cold water for drinking and cooking. 

Toronto

What about the service line? Is it possible for me to check whether it’s made of lead?

Toronto city officials estimate there are 25,000 lead service lines (LSLs) on the public side and 31,000 lead service lines on private property.

The City of Toronto recommends looking at the purchase papers for your house if you are the owner or, if you are a tenant, contacting your landlord. You can also call 311 or 416-392-2489 outside of city limits to open a request to have city staff check city records for information on your property, which may take up to 30 days

To check your service line, look for the pipe entering your home in your basement, garage or crawl space. If you have a water meter, check the pipe feeding into the meter from the ground. You can do a visual inspection for lead as described above.

You can also ask a plumber or home inspector to check for you.

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The service line needs to be replaced. What should I do?

If you have a lead service line on the public side and think it should be replaced, contact 311 or 416-392-2489. 

You can view previous water main work through Toronto’s Capital Water Service Replacement Program website or call 311 (or 416-392-2489 outside of city limits) to ask if your area is scheduled for any work.

Service lines on the private side are the responsibility of the homeowner. The City of Toronto doesn’t offer any financial incentives to homeowners for replacing private-side lead service lines. However, it does have a priority replacement program and will replace its side of the service line if you’ve recently replaced your side or have committed to replacing it.

How do I get my drinking water tested for lead?

Toronto offers free, non-regulated testing for residents. You can order these by calling 311 or going to your local Toronto Public Health office. It should be noted that these tests call for a five-minute flush before sampling and that this type of testing has been largely discredited by experts. 

Private, accredited laboratories will also test household drinking water for lead for a fee that is typically between $35 and $50. A list of accredited laboratories can be found on the government of Ontario’s website.

To measure the maximum amount of lead your family may be exposed to, sample the water after a minimum six-hour stagnation period, during which no faucets or showers in the building have been used or toilets flushed usually first thing in the morning or after returning from work. Lead leaching is highest in July and August when the pipes are warmest.

In a year-long investigation by nine universities and 10 media organizations, including Global News and Concordia University’s Institute for Investigative Journalism, we followed a three-sample method. After a six-hour stagnation, the kitchen tap was turned on at high pressure and the first sample collected immediately. The second sample was collected after the water had run for 45 seconds, and the third sample was collected after the water had run for two minutes.

Test completed. How do I interpret the test results?

In Toronto, Nawshaba Dawood, chief chemist of water and wastewater with the city, will help you interpret your results. She can be reached at 416-392-9182. Alternatively, you can call the City of Toronto’s water department at 416-392-7000 for general inquiries or check the contact sheet on the city’s website for a specific department. 

Health Canada has set the maximum acceptable concentration of lead in drinking water at five micrograms per litre, or five parts per billion (ppb).

Scientists agree there is no level of lead that is considered safe, and Health Canada recommends reducing levels as much as possible. Lead exposure, even at low levels, is especially risky for fetuses, babies and young children because it interferes with brain development.

If you use the three-sample method described above, the results of the first sample may indicate whether lead is leaching from the faucet or plumbing. The second sample is intended to measure whether lead is leaching from the service line. The third sample may indicate whether lead is leaching from the water main. 

I’m a renter and I found out my drinking water has lead levels above Health Canada’s maximum acceptable concentration of five micrograms per litre. What can I do?

There is no law in Ontario that requires a landlord to replace a lead service line. The City of Toronto suggests you contact your landlord to discuss the options.

There are a number of advocacy and legal groups for tenants in Toronto and Ontario, such as the Advocacy Centre for Tenants Ontario or the Federation of Metro Tenants’ Associations, which may be able to help you.

A list of social services and legal resources in Toronto can be found on the Ontario Tenant Rights website.

View Link »

Brantford 

Is it possible for me to check on whether my service line is made of lead?

Brantford has flagged the older areas of the city in and around downtown as at risk of having lead service lines. A map of the lead zone can be found on the city’s website.

Overall, city officials estimate there are 19 public lead service lines and 2,530 private service lines remaining. 

Brantford has a list of suspected and confirmed lead service lines. Residents can contact Amie Rutherford, water compliance analyst with the city, at 519-759-4150, ext. 5823, or at arutherford@brantford.ca to find out about their property. 

To check the section of service line on your property, look for the pipe entering your home in your basement, garage or crawl space. If you have a water meter, check the pipe feeding into the meter from the ground. You can do a visual inspection for lead.

Residents can also call the city at 519-759-4150, ext. 5834, to schedule a free inspection.

You can also ask a plumber or home inspector to check for you. A list of licensed contractors can be found on Brantford’s website.

The service line needs to be replaced. What should I do?

The City of Brantford is responsible for replacing lead service lines on the public side. If you have a lead service line on the private side and think it should be replaced, apply online or contact Brantford’s Office of Continuous Improvement at 519-759-4150, ext. 5400, to apply for a $1,000 grant and up to $3,000 in loans for eligible work. The city recommends getting a quote from multiple contractors to find the lowest price.

Brantford will replace the public side of a lead service line if a homeowner is replacing the private side of the lead service line.

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How do I get my drinking water tested for lead?

Free testing is available through the city. Residents can call 519-759-4150, ext. 5834, to make arrangements.

Private, accredited laboratories will also test household drinking water for lead for a fee that is typically between $35 and $50. A list of accredited laboratories can be found on the government of Ontario’s website.

To measure the maximum amount of lead your family may be exposed to, sample the water after a minimum six-hour stagnation period, during which no faucets or showers in the building have been used or toilets flushed usually first thing in the morning or after returning from work. Lead leaching is highest in July and August when the pipes are warmest.

In a year-long investigation by nine universities and 10 media organizations, including Global News and Concordia University’s Institute for Investigative Journalism, we followed a three-sample method. After a six-hour stagnation, the kitchen tap was turned on at high pressure and the first sample collected immediately. The second sample was collected after the water had run for 45 seconds, and the third sample was collected after the water had run for two minutes.

Test completed. How do I interpret the test results?

Health Canada has set the maximum acceptable concentration of lead in drinking water at five micrograms per litre, or five ppb.

Scientists agree there is no level of lead that is considered safe, and Health Canada recommends reducing levels as much as possible. Lead exposure, even at low levels, is especially risky for fetuses, babies and young children because it interferes with brain development.

If you use the three-sample method described above, the results of the first sample may indicate whether lead is leaching from the faucet or plumbing. The second sample is intended to measure whether lead is leaching from the service line. The third sample may indicate whether lead is leaching from the water main. 

READ MORE:
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I’m a renter and I found out my drinking water has lead levels above Health Canada’s maximum acceptable concentration of five micrograms per litre. What can I do?

There is no law in Ontario that requires a landlord to replace a lead service line.

If there is a confirmed lead service line and a member of your household is pregnant or under the age of six, you can apply for a lead filter through Brantford’s lead filter program.

There are also a number of advocacy groups and legal clinics in Ontario for tenants, such as the Advocacy Centre for Tenants Ontario. A list of social services and legal resources in Brantford can be found on the Ontario Tenant Rights website.

View Link »

Thunder Bay

Is it possible for me to check on whether my service line is made of lead?

City officials estimate there are 7,066 LSLs on the public side. 

The city does not keep records of known LSLs on private property, and homeowners are responsible for the section of service line on their property. To check your service line, look for the pipe entering your home in your basement, garage or crawl space. If you have a water meter, check the pipe feeding into the meter from the ground. You can do a visual inspection for lead.

You can also ask a plumber or home inspector to confirm for you. 

How do I get my drinking water tested for lead?

If you have confirmed or suspect that you have lead pipes, you can call Thunder Bay’s engineering department at 807-684-3568 to schedule a free test. 

Private, accredited laboratories will also test household drinking water for lead for a fee that is typically between $35 and $50. A list of accredited laboratories can be found on the government of Ontario’s website.

To measure the maximum amount of lead your family may be exposed to, sample the water after a minimum six-hour stagnation period, during which no faucets or showers in the building have been used or toilets flushed usually first thing in the morning or after returning from work. Lead leaching is highest in July and August when the pipes are warmest.

In a year-long investigation by nine universities and 10 media organizations, including Global News and Concordia University’s Institute for Investigative Journalism, we followed a three-sample method. After a six-hour stagnation, the kitchen tap was turned on at high pressure and the first sample collected immediately. The second sample was collected after the water had run for 45 seconds, and the third sample was collected after the water had run for two minutes.

READ MORE:
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Test completed. How do I interpret the test results?

Environmental health experts working for your region’s public health department can help you interpret your results. You can reach them at the Thunder Bay District Health Unit by calling 807-625-5900.

Health Canada has set the maximum acceptable concentration of lead in drinking water at five micrograms per litre, or five ppb.

Scientists agree there is no level of lead that is considered safe, and Health Canada recommends reducing levels as much as possible. Lead exposure, even at low levels, is especially risky for fetuses, babies and young children because it interferes with brain development.

If you use the three-sample method described above, the results of the first sample may indicate whether lead is leaching from the faucet or plumbing. The second sample is intended to measure whether lead is leaching from the service line. The third sample may indicate whether lead is leaching from the water main. 

I’m a renter and I found out my drinking water has lead levels above Health Canada’s maximum acceptable concentration of five micrograms per litre. What can I do?

There is no law in Ontario that requires a landlord to replace a lead service line. There are a number of advocacy and legal groups for tenants in Ontario that can advocate on your behalf, such as the Advocacy Centre for Tenants Ontario. A list of social services and legal resources in Thunder Bay can also be found on the Ontario Tenant Rights website.

Do you live outside Toronto, Brantford or Thunder Bay?

If you live in one of the cities listed below, click on the name of the city to find out who to contact to get your water tested for lead:

Durham Region

Halton Region

Hamilton-Wentworth

Kitchener-Waterloo

London

Ottawa

Peel Region

Vaughan

Windsor-Essex County

York Region

If you live outside of these regions, contact your city directly. For further information about drinking water and lead testing, contact the Ontario Ministry of the Environment’s public information centre at 1-800-565-4923 or visit its website.

© 2019 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

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