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glass filled with waterLead in Drinking Water

Lead is a heavy, soft bluish-grey metal that can be found everywhere in the environment. It has also been used extensively in industry during the last 100 years.

According to  Health Canada, high levels of lead, or lead that enters the body over time, can be hazardous to human health.

Long-term lead exposure at elevated levels can pose the greatest health risk to pregnant women and children under six years of age. Younger children tend to absorb lead more easily than adults and are more at risk of its harmful effects. For infants, low-level exposure to lead can harm their intellectual development, behaviour, size and hearing. During pregnancy, especially in the last three months, lead can enter the placenta and affect the unborn child.

The provincial standard for lead in drinking water is 10 parts per billion (10 micrograms per litre). Testing of some older homes in Ontario with lead service pipes has found some have lead levels in their drinking water above the provincial standards. Prior to 1952, lead was used widely in the plumbing systems of homes. This means that lead may enter the drinking water of some older homes as a result of leaching from lead service connections, lead pipes and solder in the plumbing system.

Homeowners who have concerns about lead levels in their drinking water should:

  • Call their local municipality and ask if their home is within an area that may have lead service lines.

  • Inquire about having your water tested through the municipality or getting it tested themselves through a laboratory that is provincially licensed to perform drinking water testing.

If you suspect or know you have lead lines in you homes, the Health Unit advises to:

  • Run the water from the drinking water tap if it has been standing for six hours or more. This will "flush" or remove the standing water before you drink or use it for preparing food. You can do this in two ways: (1) Let the water run from the cold drinking water tap at medium flow for five minutes or (2) Take a shower or run a large appliance such as a washing machine or dishwasher, then run the cold water tap at medium flow for an additional two minutes.

  • Use cold, flushed water for drinking and preparing food. Water from the hot water tap should not be used as it may contain more lead.

  • Remove aerators from taps on occasion and flushing out any debris that has collected.

  • For pregnant women and children under six years of age who live in a home with lead pipes find an alternative source of water. This can include drinking bottled water or using an approved filter attached to the tap that meets the National Sanitation Foundation International Standards. This recommendation is especially important for infants whose formula is prepared by adding tap water to liquid concentrate or powder.

For more information about lead in drinking water, contact the HKPR District Health Unit toll-free and speak to a Public Health Inspector.

Additional Resources:

Residential Sources of Lead  - Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation