Not long ago, most Canadians would have thought of lead contaminated water as a problem of the past or for developing nations far away. But then Flint, Michigan happened. In 2016, two scientific studies showed that residents had been exposed to high levels of lead in the drinking water for the last two years. A state of emergency was declared, and Flint residents were instructed to use only bottle or filtered water. About a year later in early 2017, the water quality had returned to acceptable levels, but residents were still instructed not to drink the water until all the old lead pipes were replaced — a task which will likely take until at least 2020.
Michigan is just across the border and rests along the Great Lakes. Seeing a water crisis so close to home sparked worries in Canadians that maybe lead contaminated water wasn’t a problem of the past or for far off countries. It may actually be a problem right here at home. But is it really something we need to worry about?
Well, it depends on where in Canada you live and how old your home and workplace are. Lead contaminated water definitely didn’t stop at the border, and Ontario, for example, has been dealing with its own lead crisis, though at a much smaller scale. Over 640 schools and daycares across the province failed provincial standards for safe lead levels in drinking water. The worst offenders had very high concentrations at 100-300 times the provincial threshold of 10 parts per billion. These schools and daycares only represent 5% of all the facilities tested, but that’s not a particularly comforting statistic for anyone in the 5%. And to make matters worse, there is plentiful research suggesting the threshold should really be half as high: only 5 parts per billion. At that recommendation, more than 800 schools and daycares would have failed. And it’s not just schools; many older homes in Ontario, and Toronto specifically, also have high levels of lead.
Lead doesn’t stop in Eastern Canada either. Just last year, more than half of the 60 of the school districts in British Columbia had unsafe levels of lead in drinking water. So where does that leave worried Calgarians?
The good news for Calgarians is only 0.02% of homes in Calgary are thought to be affected by lead. This is due to a lead service connection that takes water from the water main (which does not have lead) into the home. The city has identified approximately 640 homes in all of Calgary that likely still have a lead service connection, and they mail an annual notice to those residents with identified lead connections. The city was able to identify these homes because it was only between 1939 and 1947 that the city typically installed lead service connections. Therefore, homes between those years are the most at risk. Of course, lead solder was used up until 1989, so there is some risk to houses built before the 90s as well.
There’s no need to panic if you live in an older home and think you may be an unidentified member of the 0.02%. It’s relatively easy to test whether or not your drinking water is safe. For under $30, you can purchase a DIY drinking water test kit off Amazon or from your local hardware store. Many tests will check for lead, bacteria, pesticides, nitrites/nitrates, chlorine, hardness, and pH. Most of the tests take about 10 minutes. But what next?
If you get results you don’t like, it time to call you trusted Calgary plumber. We’ll help you go over your options and discuss your budget for removing the lead service connection or for investing in a water filtration system which is more affordable but only works on one tap.
At the end of the day, Calgarians are pretty lucky. We have some of the safest water in Canada and in the world, and with our neighbours in BC and Ontario struggling with that challenge, we shouldn’t take it for granted. If you’re worried about your water quality, we recommend having it tested. Once you have your results, call us to discuss your results and options with an expert Calgary plumber. We’re here to help you have complete confidence in your water.