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Lead in Drinking Water

The Ministry of the Environment (MOE) regulates the presence of lead in municipal drinking water. In 2007, the MOE determined that drinking water samples taken from some consumers' taps in southern Ontario contained levels of lead above the drinking water quality standards set out in provincial regulations. The standard is 0.01 milligrams per litre (equivalent to 10 micrograms per litre).  
 Testing for Lead in Drinking Water
Consequently, the Ontario government initiated a water testing program making it mandatory for municipalities to test water lead levels in 100 homes that may still have lead connections in the water service. The testing program for a sampling of older homes in Thunder Bay is underway.

How does lead get into drinking water?
The raw water from Lake Superior and water supplied from the water distribution system contain little or no lead. However, lead is occasionally found in the water service pipes and the plumbing in homes, and can dissolve into the water supply from these sources. Lead can enter tap water through corrosion of plumbing materials like lead solder, fixtures or lead pipes. Lead can also leach into the water from chrome- or brass-plated faucets and fixtures.

How do I determine if I have lead pipes in my home?
Lead pipes were used in older homes, usually built before 1952. Lead pipe is easy to bend, dullish grey in colour and leaves a silver mark when scratched on another surface.

What should I do with my tap water if I live in a house with a lead service pipe or plumbing?
Before using water for drinking or cooking, you should let your water run from the cold water tap for five minutes. Water that has been standing in the pipes for more than six hours should not be used for consumption, as it may have taken up more lead than water actively running through the pipes. To avoid wasting water, take a shower or run a washing machine or dishwasher to clear the pipes instead of just letting it run. Once you have let the water run, fill pitchers, kettles or pots for drinking or for food preparation during the day.

Does lead in drinking water pose a health risk?
Yes. Although lead is a common metal found in the environment in air, soil, household dust, food, certain types of pottery and water, it can have significant effects on your health if too much enters your body. The greatest risk is to young children and pregnant women. Lead exposure is a world-wide health problem. If you have, or suspect you have a lead water service, alternate sources of drinking water should be considered for young children and pregnant women.

Can I get my water tested?
Yes. If you are concerned about lead levels in your water, contact the City of Thunder Bay, Environment Division at 625-2195 to arrange a free test for lead in your water.

What is the City doing?
The City has programs to help reduce lead levels in our drinking water. The watermain replacement program ensures the piped water infrastructure is renewed. When watermains are replaced, the individual residential service connections are also replaced to the property line. The homeowner has the option to make arrangements with the contractor, at that time, to replace the service from the property line into the house at their own expense.

The City also has a cleaning and rehabilitation program to line older watermains with a protective coating. Regular water quality maintenance includes flushing and cleaning of watermains.

Each year, the City of Thunder Bay sends more than 2,400 water samples to an independent laboratory to be monitored for potential contaminants. Plant staff routinely test operational parameters such as colour, pH and alkalinity.

What can I do if I have a private lead water service pipe?
If the private portion of your water service pipe is made of lead, you can have it replaced.

If there is no road work taking place on your street, you will need to contact an excavator and a plumber (consult the Yellow Pages).

Get the Lead OutIf watermain replacement is taking place on your street, you may be able to arrange the water service pipe replacement at the same time. Consult the contractor working on your street. You will also need to hire a plumber to complete the connection of the water service pipe to your water meter.

In all cases, you will need a Building/Plumbing Permit from the City. Please print out the Building Permit, Plumbing Permit and Guide below.

I've replaced my lead water service pipe, but the City-owned portion of the service pipe is still made of lead. Should I contact the City?
Yes. Print out and complete the "Priority Lead Water Service Replacement" PDF below, attach your documentation and mail or bring it to the City's Environment Division. We will use the information to prioritize your street for watermain and service line replacement.

More Information:
Visit the Ministry of the Environment's Drinking Water Ontario website.
For more information about Thunder Bay's drinking water, contact the Infrastructure & Operations Department at 625-2195.