Two years after an investigation revealed the city of Côte Saint-Luc, Que., had a significant problem with lead in its drinking water, some residents say the work to replace lead pipes is going too slowly.
After reporting by Global News and Concordia’s Institute for Investigative Journalism in 2019, Côte Saint-Luc put in place an action plan to deal with the problem.
“It’s just dragging,” said Sivan Rehan, who lives on Davies Ave.
Rehan was disturbed when a test commissioned by the Institute for Investigative Journalism in 2019 found her tap water contained seven parts per billion of lead, slightly above Quebec’s limit of five parts per billion.
Two years later, she says there is no timeline for lead pipes leading to her house to be swapped out by the city.
“I just feel that the whole process is very slow and we don’t even have any plan or any guarantee or any clue of what they’re planning to do,” she explained.
Lead pipes are most likely to be found in homes built before 1970. After reporting by Global News, Côte Saint-Luc announced plans to test 3,200 homes by 2023.
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COVID delayed testing in 2020, but officials now say about 1,300 tests have been done. Hundreds of results have come back, and so far about 70 per cent of them exceed the five parts per billion limit. Residents need to sign up to be tested, and results take up to eight weeks to come back.
“I don’t know why it needs to take so long,” said Rehan. “I was very disappointed because I was hoping that this thing would go a bit faster, especially because it was delayed from last year.”
Steve Erdelyi, the Côte Saint-Luc city councillor responsible for the lead pipe file, said the six-to-eight week wait time was always expected.
“The goal is to finish doing this testing and then come up with a comprehensive plan to to remove all the lead from the pipes,” he said.
A 2019 press release on Côte Saint-Luc’s website said “our staff is costing this out now to see how fast we can do it.”
There is no safe level of lead in water. Consuming it has been been linked to high blood pressure, heart disease, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder in children and other ailments.
“The goal is to go street by street and to deal with the the areas that have the highest lead content and slowly remove all the lead from all the pipes in Côte Saint-Luc,” Erdelyi explained.
Rehan is impatient, and worries it could take years before the city gets around to removing her lead pipes.
“We’re really we’re up in the air with this,” she said.
Incumbent mayor Mitchell Brownstein declined an interview request on the subject, offering Erdelyi to Global News instead.
Mayoral candidate David Tordjman says if elected he’d make lead elimination a priority.
“The lead in the water is a health issue, something that residents are deeply concerned about and for a reason,” he told Global News.
“That’s where we should be spending more of our money and putting the efforts. Staff is doing a great job. They just need the resources to be able to get this done.”
Erdelyi said he feels the lead in the water is “not a political matter.”
“This is a matter of doing the best for the residents,” he said.
Erdelyi could not say whether the expensive process would take five, 10 or even 20 years, but the quicker the city attacks the problem, the more expensive it will be.
“If we do it much faster, it means we’ll have less money for other priorities and we’re doing different analyses to see how we can do that and still maintain the city as we’ve done for all these years,” he said.
For now, the city is changing pipes on streets being repaved, as well as offering $50 subsidies for filtered water pitchers and $200 subsidies for filters attached to sinks.
Rehan installed filters on her kitchen and bathroom sinks not long after Global News’ reporting in 2019.
“My children were still small and we didn’t want them to ingest any level of lead,” she said.