Unsafe levels of lead in Toronto tap water: report

ABOVE: Find out how to determine if your home may have unsafe amounts of lead in the drinking water – and what to do about it if it does. Jackson Proskow reports. 

TORONTO – The water coming from your tap at home may not be safe to drink.

A Toronto Star investigation warns that water pipes in 13 per cent of Toronto homes have unsafe levels of lead in them and in some cases, the levels are 2,000 times over the safe limit of 10 parts per billion.

According to the report, older neighbourhoods most likely affected are High Park, the Yonge-Lawrence area, south Annex in downtown and parts of East York.

The data was compiled from 15,000 water tap samples collected between 2008 to 2014.

Lead is especially harmful to pregnant women, children under six-years-old and infants drinking formula made from tap water.

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Water service pipes were commonly made of lead prior to the mid-1950s and continued to be used to solder pipes before 1990.

Councillor Janet Davis says the city began the process of replacing the pipes years ago but that plan was slowed down due to health concerns.

“We were targeting 9,000 replacements a year. However, there was new public health information that came out in 2007 that said that we should not be breaking pipes… because in fact that break can make it worse,” said Davis.

Is your tap water safe to drink? Here’s some tips.

  • If you are in a condo higher than three floors, you don’t have lead pipes.
  • Houses built before 1955 likely had lead pipes. Don’t know for sure? The house documentation might say whether the pipes are lead or if they’ve been replaced.
  • Testing kits are available at Toronto Public Health offices
  • Install a filter if water tests above 10 parts per billion (You will need a special filter.)
  • Boiling water won’t remove lead. However, you can “flush” your pipes: Run the water until it’s cold and let it run for another minute.

The city then began a public education campaign, provided filters and introduced new chemicals in the water to try and seal off the pipes over time.

Toronto Water General Manager Lou Di Gironimo says the only way to completely get rid of the lead from the pipes is to switch out both the public water main portion and the private home connection at the same time.

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“What we were finding when we only did a partially replacement, when the homeowner wasn’t doing their side as well, you can see a elevation or spike lead level for a series of months,” said Di Gironimo.

“So whenever we do a partial replacement, we do leave homeowners with some lead faucet filters.”

Davis says the city should do more to help residents and homeowners pay for the cost of replacing the ‘private’ portion of the lead pipes.

“It’s now about $3000 to replace the private portion and like many families they can’t afford it,” Davis explained.

“We should be able to provide either a loan or a grant. A loan that could be paid off on your water bill or your taxes over time.”

Davis plans to bring up the issue at an upcoming council meeting.

According to the city, there are approximately 40,000 homes in Toronto still connected with lead pipes and Di Gironimo says the city is one pace to change about 3,000 of those a year.

Toronto Public Health (TPH) says the best way to be sure if your water supply contains lead is to conduct a test with a free kit that can be obtained from a TPH office.

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If you find that your water tests are above 10 parts per billion, residents are then advised to install a water filter immediately.

However, apartments or condos with more than three floors don’t have lead pipes no matter when the building was constructed.

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