Lead in Windsor's Water
To learn more please select a question from the list below or scroll down the page.
- Where is lead most commonly found?
- Why is lead a problem?
- What is the regulated limit for lead in our drinking water system?
- How does lead enter our drinking water system?
- What are the lead levels in the City of Windsor distribution system?
- Why would some residences have high lead levels in their water?
- How can I tell if my service is of lead construction?
- What can I do to reduce the amount of lead in water?
- What is Windsor Utilities Commission doing about lead levels that exceed the regulated standard?
- What are the benefits of replacing a lead water service line on my property?
Where is lead most commonly found?
Lead is present almost everywhere in nature and due to its low melting point, malleability and ability to resist corrosion it has been used extensively in all manner of applications over the years. Today, humans are exposed to lead in both outdoor and indoor environments as lead can be found in the air, soil, dust, drinking water, food and various consumer products.
While lead has been utilized since pre-medieval times, concentrations of lead in the environment increased significantly following the industrial revolution. The mass production of the internal combustion engine and the introduction of lead additives in gasoline, led to a dramatic increase in lead concentrations in the 1920's. However, over the past 25 years, Health Canada, Environment Canada, and other Canadian regulatory agencies have substantially reduced Canadian's exposure to lead by legislating and enforcing maximum lead concentrations in gasoline, house paints and in lead based solder.
Why is lead a problem?
Since lead is so prominent in the environment and can be found to be present in food, water, air and soil, it is able to accumulate over time in the human body. Unfortunately, the body does not need lead and, depending upon the amount of lead that is ingested, it does not readily excrete lead in normal body wastes. The subsequent build-up of lead within the human body can therefore have chronic health implications.
Further complicating the issue is that the uptake of lead within the body can vary person-to-person depending on the form the lead is in and on that person's metabolism.
It is recognized that those specifically at risk are likely to be children under the age of six and pregnant mothers. Young children are at risk based upon their higher metabolic rates and their lower body mass, while pregnant mothers are at risk since the lead will pass through the placental membrane and be directly absorbed by the developing fetus.
What is the regulated limit for lead in our drinking water system?
In Canada, drinking water quality is a responsibility shared between the federal and provincial governments. Health Canada works closely with the Federal-Provincial-Territorial Committee on Drinking Water to establish the Guidelines for Canadian Drinking Water Quality. Each Province is then responsible for setting their own guidelines, objectives or enforceable regulations, usually based on the Guidelines for Canadian Drinking Water Quality.
The Canadian guideline for lead in drinking water is 0.005 mg/L. In Ontario, the maximum acceptable concentration (MAC) for lead is 0.010 mg/L.
How does lead enter our drinking water system?
In Canada, the concentration of lead in drinking water is generally below the Canadian guideline of 0.005 mg/L as it leaves the treatment plant, and this is certainly true for the lead levels leaving the treatment plants here in Windsor. However, lead may enter potable water at several points between water treatment plants and people's homes. The use of lead in older distribution mains and service lines are potential sources as is internal plumbing in dwellings from pipe jointing compounds, soldered joints and brass fixtures that are used within the home.
What are the lead levels in the City of Windsor distribution system?
The City of Windsor continues to be well served with water that consistently exceeds the guidelines set by the Ministry of the Environment. With regard to the lead levels within the City's distribution system, samples are collected quarterly and have historically returned values less than 0.001 mg/l, much lower than the regulated level set by the Ministry.
Why would some residences have high lead levels in their water?
The water leaving the plant and entering into the distribution system has lead levels that are significantly lower (on average ten times lower) than the regulated maximum acceptable concentration of 0.010 mg/L (Ontario). That having been said, on its travel through the distribution system and into a residence, the water can come into contact with lead soldered joints in distribution and service lines, and comes into intimate contact with internal plumbing and brass fixtures that may also contain lead.
Lead levels may be higher in older (pre-1948) or very new homes. In old homes, the problem often arises because of leaded service connections and internal plumbing. In newer homes, excessive leaching from leaded solder and brass fixtures (e.g., faucets) may occur for the first year until a protective oxide layer has formed in the pipes.
Once in contact with those lead sources, water can take lead into solution and therefore could, based on temperature, pH, alkalinity and time left standing, result in lead levels that exceed the MAC of 0.005 mg/L.
How can I tell if my service is of lead construction?
If your house was constructed prior to 1948 there is a possibility that the service line from the watermain to your house was constructed from lead.
To determine if your service is lead, you can check by locating your water meter (typically located in the basement) and inspect the pipe coming through the exterior wall or basement floor into the meter. If you lightly abrade the pipe, using sandpaper or a dull edged knife, and the metal scratches easily, leaving a metallic shiny surface, then there is a possibility that you have a lead service. To verify if the service is lead pass a magnet over the surface of the pipe, if the magnet is NOT attracted to the pipe then the service is likely made of lead; if the magnet is attracted to the pipe then the service is likely constructed from galvanized pipe. If the pipe is plastic, or has the colour of a copper penny when abraded, then the service is also not a lead service.
What can I do to reduce the amount of lead in water?
Lead levels in tap water will increase with the length of time water is left standing in pipes. In order to minimize the impact that this might have, you can let the tap water run before drinking it, if it has been standing in the pipes for more than a few hours. By turning on the taps and letting the cold water tap run until it runs cold first thing in the morning, or at any other time when the water has been left standing in your home's plumbing system (such as after a vacation), one can reduce the amount of lead in your water.
In many cases, normal domestic activities in the morning, such as showering and flushing toilets, should minimize the need to flush taps. To conserve water and avoid the extensive flushing of taps, you can also fill a pitcher or pots once the initial flushing is done and likewise keep some drinking water in the refrigerator.
It should be noted that you can also minimize lead levels by using only cold water for drinking, cooking and making baby formula. Hot or warm water tends to acquire more lead, and boiling water does NOT remove the presence of lead in your water, in point of fact it is likely to increase the lead content due to evaporation of the water during boiling.
What is Windsor Utilities Commission doing about lead levels that exceed the regulated standard?
Windsor Utilities Commission will be launching an education and awareness campaign to educate residents regarding the issues of lead in the water system and what can be done to minimize its impact.
Windsor Utilities Commission also has an ongoing capital program that is aimed at replacing our underground infrastructure. While carrying out watermain replacement projects, whenever it is discovered that there are lead service lines conveying water from the watermain onto private property, these services are replaced from the watermain up to the property line. Additionally, the Windsor Utilities Commission will provide notice to the homeowner if a lead water service is encountered at the property line. The homeowner is encouraged to have the lead service replaced at their own cost.