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Sources of lead - drinking water


Is there lead in my drinking water?

The amount of lead in natural water supplies in Canada is very low; however; lead can enter the water supply from lead pipes, lead-containing brass fittings, or faucets. Homes built before 1975 often have lead pipes and those built until 1990 may have lead fittings.

Lead test kits that are available from stores for testing drinking water are generally not correct or reliable. You can contact your municipal water distribution office if you would like your water tested.

The maximum acceptable concentration of lead in drinking water is 0.01 mg/L.

How do I know if I have lead pipes?

Check with your municipality to find out if there are lead pipes in your area. Even if the municipal pipes do not have lead, the service lines connecting to your home, and plumbing within the home may have lead and are the responsibility of the homeowner. If your home was built before 1952, the water service line is likely made of lead.

The water pipe servicing your home should be located in the basement. The only visible portion of the pipe is a 50 cm section between the concrete floor and the water meter. Scratch the pipe below the water meter with sandpaper to expose the bare metal. A lead pipe will look dull grey in colour and is easily scratched by a hard object. Copper pipes are red-brown and corroded portions may show a green deposit.

If you are unsure, contact a plumber.

How can I lower my risk of lead exposure?

Flushing
  • Boiling water will not remove the lead.
  • The longer the water sits in your pipes, the higher the lead levels in your tap water. Hot or warm water usually has higher levels of lead. Use only cold water for drinking, cooking, and making breast milk substitutes (baby formula).
  • If water has been sitting in the pipes for a few hours, be sure to run cold water for at least 5 minutes before using. You can also flush the toilet, shower, or do laundry to clear the standing water from your pipes, then run cold water for 1 to 2 minutes before using.
Bottled water

Bottled water is not always lead-free. Check the label to make sure the lead ‘Pb’ value is zero.

In-home water treatment systems

Carbon-based filters can be very helpful in removing lead from water. These should be NSF International Certified to remove lead and must be installed and maintained as per the manufacturer’s instructions.
Home owners can contact the manufacturer or a professional for details.

Removing the lead lines

Removing the lead-based water lines that feed your home with water is a permanent solution to lowering your exposure. Contact your municipality and a professional to find out more.