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

Mayor Plante announced an ambitious plan to get lead out of Montreal water. Oct 23, 2019. .
Mayor Plante announced an ambitious plan to get lead out of Montreal water. Oct 23, 2019. . Dan Spector / Global News

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. Montreal residents can check their home’s year of construction by consulting the online assessment roll, here. Assessments for Gatineau residents are available in a public database.

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 gray 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.

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READ MORE: Is Canada’s tap water safe? Thousands of test results show high lead levels across the country

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 NSF International or the CSA Group. The faucet’s packaging should indicate that it complies with the NSF/ANSI 61 or NSF/ANSI 372 standards.

How do I get my drinking water tested for lead?

Montreal does not offer testing for free, unlike some cities, including Ottawa and Toronto. 

Accredited laboratories can test your drinking water for lead for a fee that is typically between $35 and $50. A list of all of the accredited labs in the province can be found here.

READ MORE: How lead levels in 5 Canadian cities compared to those in Flint, Mich.

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.

For our investigation, 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.

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The secrets of Canada’s tap water, explained
The secrets of Canada’s tap water, explained

Test completed. How do I interpret the test results?

Quebec’s environmental ministry oversees lead in the province and will direct you to your regional office, which can help interpret lead test results. Call their information centre at 1-800-561-1616.

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

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 if lead is leaching from the faucet or plumbing. The second sample is intended to measure if lead is leaching from the service line. The third sample may indicate if lead is leaching from the water main. 

READ MORE: Children in schools and daycares across Canada are exposed to unsafe water

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 standard. Install filters at all faucets used for drinking or cooking. Be sure to replace the cartridges regularly, as instructed.

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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.

High amounts of lead found in Canadian tap water
High amounts of lead found in Canadian tap water

I’m a renter, and I found out my drinking water has lead levels above Health Canada’s maximum acceptable concentration of 5 micrograms/L. What can I do?

The Civil Code of Quebec requires that landlords maintain minimum legal requirements with regard to maintenance, habitability, safety and sanitation, but there are no specific requirements with regard to lead in drinking water. Several tenants’ rights groups we contacted in the province told us they had not encountered any complaints or concerns about lead plumbing in rental properties, and were unsure about how tenants might proceed with such concerns. 

READ MORE: Investigation into lead in Canada’s drinking water spurs calls for action across country

Montreal

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

The city of Montreal keeps track of lead service lines (LSLs) on the public side, and is responsible for replacing them. According to city records, as of 2018, there were approximately 52,791 LSLs in Montreal proper. The city does not inform residents if they have an LSL on the public side, but does inform residents when they are replacing LSLs on a street.

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Here are the boroughs and demerged cities on the Island of Montreal that confirm having lead service lines underground: Ahuntsic-Cartierville,
Anjou, Côte-des-Neiges-Notre-Dame-de-Grâce, Côte-Saint-Luc, Hampstead, Lachine, Lasalle, Mercier-Hochelaga-Maisonneuve, Montréal-Est, Montréal-Nord, Montréal-Ouest, Outremont, Plateau-Mont-Royal, Rivière-des-Prairies, Rosemont-Petite-Patrie, Saint-Laurent, Sud-Ouest, Verdun, Ville-Marie, Villeray-Saint-Michel-Parc-Extension, and Westmount.

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, as described above.

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

If you are replacing a lead service line on the private side, you can email the city at plomb@ville.montreal.qc.ca to request they change the service line on the public side. The city recommends directing all inquiries about lead service lines to this email address. 

Investigation shows lead is a very real threat in Canadian water
Investigation shows lead is a very real threat in Canadian water

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, you can fill out this form and send it to plomb@ville.montreal.qc.ca to make a request.

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City records obtained through a freedom of information request indicate that of the 538 citizen requests made in between 2014 and 2018, the city replaced 54 per cent within two years. 

If the city is replacing the public side of your lead service line, experts recommend replacing the private side, if it is also lead, at the same time. However, property owners are responsible for this cost, and in Montreal, there are no subsidies to help homeowners offset private-side lead service line replacement, as there are in Saskatoon and Halifax. 

 

Gatineau

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

The municipality is responsible for replacing lead service lines (LSLs) on the public side. Gatineau keeps records of known LSLs, and suspected lead service lines (those installed before 1955) but does not post this information on their website. 

There are no public records about the locations of LSLs on the private side, 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, as described above.

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

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

If the lead pipes are on your side of the property line, replacing them is the best solution. You can call Gatineau’s 3-1-1 helpline to arrange for the city to replace their side at the same time as you replace yours. The City of Gatineau currently doesn’t offer any subsidies for homeowners looking to replace lead service lines, but said they are looking into offering financial assistance for low-income residents.

READ MORE: What do you do if you find lead in your tap water in Canada?

Do you live outside Montreal and Gatineau?

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

Laval

Longueuil

Sherbrooke

Quebec City

If your region is not listed, contact your city, municipality, or town directly.

For further information about drinking water and lead testing visit the province’s website, here.

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