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Côte Saint-Luc and Montreal public health officials try to reassure residents about tap water

Click to play video: 'Côte Saint-Luc holds meeting over dangerous lead levels in tap water'
Côte Saint-Luc holds meeting over dangerous lead levels in tap water
Côte Saint-Luc city officials held an information session with Montreal's public health department over high levels of lead its in drinking water – Dec 13, 2019

Municipal and public health officials attempted to reassure a crowd of concerned Côte Saint-Luc residents about their tap water Thursday night in the wake of the Tainted Water investigation.

It was standing room only for the event, featuring David Kaiser, a medical doctor who works at the regional Montreal public health agency.

He fielded questions for more than an hour and, even after that, a lineup of people concerned about their health wanted more information.

The meeting followed a firestorm of criticism targeting the city over revelations about the city’s test results, uncovered in a joint investigation by Global News and Concordia University’s Institute for Investigative Journalism. The investigation revealed Côte Saint-Luc has some of the worst tap water in Quebec due to lead contamination from underground pipes.

The city, which contracted out the management of its water supply to a private engineering firm in 2006, has known for at least six years that some homes had unsafe amounts of lead that exceeded the Quebec standard in their tap water.

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“From my perspective, what we want is no lead in your body,” Kaiser told the crowd.

There are tens of thousands of underground lead pipes on the Island of Montreal that connect homes to city water mains and they leach lead into the water supply before it comes out of taps. Thousands of residents in Côte Saint-Luc would be among those at risk.

Côte Saint-Luc previously refused to release its data and documents about lead in tap water in September, urging Quebec’s access to information watchdog to declare Concordia University journalism students “abusive” so that it wouldn’t have to respond to their freedom of information requests.

Global News and the Institute for Investigative Journalism later reported on Côte Saint-Luc data, using results that the city had submitted to the government, released by the provincial Environment Ministry through access to information legislation.

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Following that report, the city released six years’ worth of test results from 238 homes, revealing that more than 60 per cent had lead levels exceeding the recommended Health Canada limit of five parts per billion. In 2013, 75 per cent of homes had tap water exceeding that limit.

All of these tests were conducted after technicians flushed taps for five minutes. Experts say residents would likely be exposed to higher levels of lead since most do not flush taps for five minutes before consuming water.

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The city has also promised to offer a $50 rebate for filters and to begin testing 3,200 homes starting in 2020 to identify those who may be at risk. They have also announced plans to begin replacing more lead service lines but have not provided details.

“Our obligation as a municipality is to try to reduce the risks and bring the numbers down to as close as possible to zero,” said Mayor Mitchell Brownstein.

During the meeting, Côte Saint-Luc residents came armed with questions and concerns about the impact of lead on their health and well-being.

Kaiser explained that the health impacts of lead are better understood than ever before. Exposure to lead can cause health problems such as high blood pressure in adults and can affect brain development in children, he added.

“What it means is that when we have a source of lead that we can get rid of, we should get rid of it,” said Kaiser. “Because what we want to get ideally is zero and the closer we get to zero, the happier we are.”

Brownstein, for his part, told Global News that he wants Côte Saint-Luc residents to stay informed and that the city will provide more information in the coming months.

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“What we’re trying to do right now is to ensure that people have filters so no matter what the level of the water is, they should have closer to zero water results in their tests,” he said.

“And then after that, obviously, our next step is to test all the water based on the new methods, so we’re going to have other results and we’re going to present that to our residents.”

Click to play video: 'City of Côte Saint-Luc looking for solutions to lead problem'
City of Côte Saint-Luc looking for solutions to lead problem

— With files from Global News’ Dan Spector and Shakti Langlois-Ortega

See the full list of “Tainted Water” series credits here: concordia.ca/watercredits.

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