’15 years is appalling’: Regina residents renew call for faster lead pipe replacement

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Regina residents renew call for faster lead pipe replacement
WATCH: A group of concerned Regina residents has launched a petition they hope will pressure the city to speed up its lead pipe replacement program – Feb 23, 2022

A group of concerned residents is hoping a newly-launched petition helps motivate the City of Regina to speed up its lead service connection replacement program.

The program currently has a 15-year timeline for completion, while the petition’s organizers would like to see that reduced down to five.

“Fifteen years is appalling,” said Regina resident and Get the Lead Out member Florence Stratton, adding the petition already has about 170 signatures.

“We’re hoping the petition will, first, help educate all of us about the issue and to put pressure on the city to speed up getting the lead out of our water,”

When the program was accelerated to 15 years from its original 30-year timeline last May, the city estimated there were about 3,600 city-owned lead service connections remaining.

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A new estimate provided to Global News Tuesday suggests about 3,400 city-owned connections remain. By the city’s own admission, these connections “may contribute to elevated lead levels in affected residents’ drinking water”.

Stratton and her peers say their main concern is the potential negative health consequences for children.

According to Health Canada, “Infants and children are most sensitive to the harmful effects of lead because they are undergoing a period of rapid development and they absorb lead more easily and excrete it less efficiently than adults.”

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“The most sensitive endpoint of lead toxicity in infants and children is the reduction of intelligence quotient (IQ) score. In adults, the strongest scientific evidence to date suggests low levels of lead exposure may cause a small increase in blood pressure,” the health policy regulator says.

Health Canada lists the maximum acceptable concentration for total lead in drinking water is 5 parts per billion (ppb).

Meanwhile, a 2019 Global News investigation found Regina, as well as Saskatoon and Moose Jaw, have some of the highest measured levels of lead-tainted water in Canada.

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Fifty-eight per cent of the samples in the three cities measured lead levels that were above Health Canada’s recommended limit, and the average result was 22 ppb. These samples were primarily taken between 2013 to 2018 in about 450 older homes with lead pipes connecting them to the main municipal water systems.

“How can we be getting the lead out in 15 years when its affecting … how many thousands of children in our city? Reducing their intelligence — that is simply appalling,” Stratton said.

Asked about the idea Tuesday, Regina Ward 1 city Coun. Cheryl Stadnichuk said she’s open to the idea of accelerating replacement, but only if certain conditions can be met.

Stadnichuk was one of four councillors who supported a 10-year timeline when the current plan was approved.

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“It comes down to financing and it comes down to coordinating the work. As long as we can address those two issues, I’m willing to bring it back,” she said, adding that if funding could be secured from higher levels of government, the idea would become more attractive.

While the 15-year plan is expected to cost around $36 million overall, the five-year plan would cost around $40 million total.

But City of Regina Citizen Services executive director Kim Onrait said shortening the program timeline isn’t as simple as spreading out the projected cost of the current option over fewer years, or increasing dedicated utility rates.

“When you start shortening programs it will put a huge amount of pressure in certain locations that have mass amounts of construction work done,” Onrait said.

The May 2021 report notes “a program this large would have significant water service and roadway disruptions in the City for five years and would be difficult to effectively coordinate with road preservation. This may result in recently paved roads excavated and could also expedite the need for replacement of roads.”

’15 years is appalling’: Regina residents renew call for faster lead pipe replacement - image
City of London

The city only covers the cost of replacing the side of the service connection on public property.

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The City of Regina points out online that, prior to 1960, lead was a common plumbing material in municipalities across the country. Ninety-five per cent of municipally-owned water service connections today are lead-free, according to the city.

with files from Katelyn Wilson

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