Water filters for homes with lead service pipes

The City has identified properties with lead water service pipes. To reduce the risk of consuming lead while drinking tap water at this time, properties that have been identified with a known lead service pipe will receive a Brita® Tahoe Water Pitcher with a total of two (2) Brita® Elite™ water filters, which for an average household is a 12-month supply of NSF/ANSI-53 approved lead-reducing filters at no cost. Additional filters can be purchased at a variety of local retailers.  

Lead found in drinking water can pose a significant health risk. The population at the highest risk from lead exposure are infants, children under the age of 6, and pregnant women.

If you recently purchased your home, and/or are unsure if you may have a lead service pipe, please call City Dispatch at 807-625-2195.   

Users must follow the manufacturer’s owner’s manual that provides instructions on how to use the pitcher and filters. These water filters are certified to reduce lead in tap water and should be used for drinking, cooking, and preparing baby formula. It is important to use these filters as lead in drinking water can pose health risks, especially for infants, children under the age of six, and pregnant women.

How to tell if you have lead pipes

Customers with lead service pipes should have received a notice from the City identifying that their property has a lead service connection. If you did not receive a letter and are still concerned that you may have a lead service pipe, contact the City of Thunder Bay's Infrastructure, Development & Operations Dispatch at 807-625-2195 to arrange a free test. 

Lead pipes are a dull grey colour. If you scrape the surface of the pipe gently with a Loonie, the metal beneath will be shiny and silver.

 Changes to Drinking Water System – Questions & Answers


Does the water that leaves the Bare Point Water Treatment Plant contain lead?

No. The water produced by the City of Thunder Bay’s Bare Point Water Treatment Plant and distribution system does not contain lead.

 How can lead enter the drinking water in my home?

Lead can enter the drinking water in your home from the following:

  • Lead pipes found in homes built before the mid-1950s, and the service line for these, which is the pipe that connects your home’s plumbing to the City’s watermain
  • Lead solder used to join pipes together before the 1990s
  • Leaded-brass fixtures, such as faucets and valves

 What does the change to the drinking water system mean for me?

The City's Water Authority has phased out the addition of sodium hydroxide to the City’s drinking water. This has resulted in the pH decreasing to levels close to neutral.

For properties with lead service pipes, leaded-brass fixtures or lead solder, the Water Authority anticipates lead levels at the tap will increase to similar levels found in 2017.

If you have lead plumbing, then you need to take precautions to reduce your lead exposure. Please see below.

What is the City doing to make sure residents know about this risk of lead in pipes?

The City continues to advise the public about the risks of lead exposure through a number of different channels. 

Up-to-date information is available on this webpage.

An information brochure regarding the changes to the water system was delivered to all customers of the City’s drinking water system.

In addition, customers with lead service pipes have received a separate notice from the City regarding water filters and lead exposure.

What is the City doing to protect residents with lead service pipes to exposure of lead in drinking water?

For customers with lead service pipes, drinking water filters will be provided in the interim at no cost, to reduce lead exposure.

The City continues to work with the Ministry of Environment, Conservation and Parks and the Thunder Bay District Health Unit to evaluate further methods to reduce lead levels measured at the tap and update the City’s Corrosion Control Plan.

What are the health risks of consuming water from lead pipes?

Lead found in drinking water can pose a significant health risk if too much enters the body. The population at the highest risk of lead exposure are infants, young children under the age of six, and pregnant women. Lead exposure targets specific areas of the body such as the nervous system, blood system, and the kidneys.

For more information on the risks of lead in drinking water, visit Health Canada’s website.

How can I find out if I have a lead service pipe?

Customers with lead service pipes will receive a notice from the City identifying that their property has a lead service pipe.

You may be able to see a portion of the service pipe in your basement, near the water meter. Lead pipes are a dull grey colour. If you scrape the surface of the pipe gently, the metal beneath will be shiny and silver. If you suspect that your service line contains lead, you can have your water tested.

If you do not receive a letter by March 1, and suspect that you may have a lead service pipe, contact the City of Thunder Bay's Infrastructure & Operations Dispatch at 625-2195.

What can I do to protect myself and my family against lead in drinking water?

If you have a lead service pipe, you should flush out your plumbing after water has been sitting in the pipes for a few hours, such as first thing in the morning or when you get home from work.

Flushing can be done by taking a shower, flushing the toilet, doing a load of laundry, or running the cold water for 2 minutes. This will protect the quality of the drinking water coming out of the tap.

Is it safe to take a bath or shower in water that may contain lead?

Yes. Bathing and showering is safe for you and your children, even if the water contains lead.

According to Health Canada, lead will not enter the body through the skin or by breathing in vapours while showering or bathing. Bathing and showering in water that contains levels of lead above the guideline value is considered safe.

To learn more, visit Health Canada’s website.

Do I need to filter my water for cooking?

Residents with lead service pipes should regularly flush their water prior to using it for cooking. It is recommended that these residents also use the filter provided to further reduce lead exposure. 

In addition, use only cold water for drinking, cooking, and making baby formula.

Will boiling water reduce or remove lead from my drinking water?

No. Boiling water does not remove lead from water. In fact, it may concentrate it and make it worse.

Can I brush my teeth with water that may contain lead?

Yes. But, residents are advised not to swallow the water unless they have flushed their pipes. 
Residents with lead service pipes should regularly flush their pipes prior to consumption.

Flushing can be done by taking a shower, flushing the toilet, doing a load of laundry, or running the cold water for 2 minutes. This will protect the quality of the drinking water coming out of the tap.

Can I wash my dishes with water that may contain lead?

Yes.

Can I give my pets water that may contain lead?

As long as residents regularly flush their pipes prior giving it to pets, it is safe for consumption.

Flushing can be done by taking a shower, flushing the toilet, doing a load of laundry, or running the cold water for 2 minutes. This will protect the quality of the drinking water coming out of the tap.

Can I use water that may contain lead in my fish tank?

You should flush your water prior to using it in your fish tank.

Flushing can be done by taking a shower, flushing the toilet, doing a load of laundry, or running the cold water for 2 minutes. This will protect the quality of the drinking water coming out of the tap. 

Will I be compensated for flushing my water taps?

No, you will not be compensated. To avoid wasting water, take a shower, run the washing machine, or run the dishwasher to clear the pipes. You may also find other uses for your flushed water, including watering plants, washing dishes, etc.

Where can I find more information about the health risks associated with lead in drinking water?

Visit Health Canada’s website.

I didn't realize the risks of lead in drinking water. How common is low-level lead exposure?

Chronic low-level lead exposure is fairly common because up until about 40 years ago lead was used in many products, including lead pipes, lead paint, and leaded gasoline. It will take a long time to remove all of this lead from our environment.

Lead water service replacement loan program

City Council has approved an interest-free loan program that will allow property owners to borrow funds from the City to assist in the replacement of privately owned lead water service pipes.

This program provides financial assistance to homeowners to reduce lead levels in drinking water at the tap. Loans for up to $5,000 of eligible costs are available for five years. There is also a 10-year loan option for property owners that qualify under the Tax and Credit Program for Low-Income Seniors and Low-Income Persons with Disabilities, or the Tax and Water Credit Program for Low-Income Persons, and a $1,500 grant will also be provided. Loan and Grant approvals will be subject to the availability of funding and priority given on a first come first serve basis.

Lead Water Service Replacement Loan Program Application Form

Corrosion Control Plan

The City of Thunder Bay is required to have an approved Corrosion Control Plan in accordance with Drinking Water System Regulation O. Reg. 170/03. The City is working closely with the Ministry of Environment, Conservation and Parks and the Thunder Bay District Health Unit on this change to the drinking water and evaluating other means of corrosion control that may be implemented in the future.    

The removal of lead service pipes remains a key priority in the Plan. However, the full removal of lead service pipes will take many years to accomplish. In the interim, lead levels will be reduced in properties with lead service connection with a NSF/ANSI 53 approved water filter. 

Studies have shown chronic exposure to lead, even at low levels, can have health impacts. Of particular concern are the neurodevelopmental effects impacting learning and memory on developing fetuses and young children. 

Learn how to 'Get the Lead Out'

 

Is lead in drinking water 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.
Is there lead in Thunder Bay’s drinking water?
The raw Lake Superior water, and water in the City’s water distribution system, contain little or no lead. However, lead is sometimes found in the water service pipes and the plumbing of older homes. Lead solder, fixtures and pipes can corrode and leach lead into the water in the home
Do I have lead pipes in my home?
Lead pipes were used in older homes, usually built before 1952. Older homes may also have a lead water service pipe leading from the watermain under the street into the home. Lead pipe is dullish grey, easy to dent or bend, and leaves a silver mark when scratched on another surface
If I think I have lead pipes, what should I do with my tap water?
Let your water run from the cold water tap until it is very cold (approx. 3-5 minutes) before using it for drinking or cooking. Water that has been standing in lead pipes for over six hours should not be used for consumption - it may have taken up more lead than water actively running through the pipes. Once you have let the water run, fill pitchers, kettles or pots for drinking or for food preparation during the day.
Can my water be tested?
Yes. If your home was built before 1952 and you are concerned about lead levels in your water, contact the City of Thunder Bay, Environment Division at 807-684-3568 to arrange a free test for lead in your water
What is the City doing?
The City’s watermain replacement program ensures the piped water infrastructure is renewed and all lead is removed. When a watermain is replaced, the service connections are also replaced to the property line. As part of the Corrosion Control Program the City encourages homeowners with lead service lines to replace their portion of the service line - the City will in turn replace the City’s portion to the property line. 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 happens to the individual residential service pipes when the City replaces a watermain?
When watermains are replaced, the individual residential service pipes are also replaced to the property line. The homeowner has the option of making arrangements with the contractor, at that time, to replace the remainder of the service pipe from the property line into the house at their own expense. We encourage homeowners to make this upgrade. Consult the contractor working on your street, who may be able to provide an estimate and schedule the replacement of your private service pipe. You are required to hire a plumber to complete the connection of the water service pipe to your water meter. You will also need a Building/Plumbing Permit from the City. These forms are available to be printed out at www.thunderbay.ca/leadpipes.
What can I do if I have a private lead water service pipe, but no watermain work is scheduled for my street?
If there is no watermain work scheduled for your street, contact a private excavator and a plumber (consult the Yellow Pages). As above, you will also need a Building/Plumbing Permit from the City. Required forms can be printed out at www.thunderbay.ca/leadpipes.
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 from www.thunderbay.ca/leadpipes, attach your documentation and mail or deliver it to the City's Engineering Division. We will use the information to prioritize your address to have the City’s portion of the service line replaced.
Clean your faucet screens

Routinely clean faucet screens. Sediment and metals can collect in the faucet screen located at the tip of your faucets. Replace screens that are in poor condition. New screens are available at local hardware stores.

To clear the faucet screen of debris:

  1. Unscrew the screen.
  2. Separate the individual parts.
  3. Remove any sediment (mineral or rust build up) on the screen and other parts. If necessary, soak the parts in white vinegar for a few minutes and scrub with a brush.
  4. Reassemble the screen parts and re-attach to faucet.
Sodium Hydroxide FAQ
What is a corrosion control chemical?
A chemical that either alters the treated water chemistry or interacts with the surface of metallic materials in the water distribution system to inhibit corrosion and prevent the formation of soluble lead compounds.
Why is sodium hydroxide used in drinking water?
Sodium hydroxide is used as a pH adjusting chemical in the treatment of drinking water to control the corrosion of metals such as lead from pipes into the drinking water.
How does sodium hydroxide work?
Sodium hydroxide is used in the treatment of drinking water to raise the pH of the water to a level that minimizes the corrosion. Raising the pH remains one of the most effective methods for reducing lead corrosion and minimizing lead levels in drinking water.
Is it safe to drink my water if sodium hydroxide is added?
Sodium hydroxide use as a corrosion inhibitor is listed in NSF/ANSI Standard 60. These standards have been designed to safeguard drinking water by ensuring that additives meet minimum health effects requirements and thus are safe for use in drinking water. (Health Canada).
Why is sodium hydroxide the best choice as a corrosion inhibitor?
Sodium hydroxide was selected due to the chemistry of the City of Thunder Bay’s raw source water (Lake Superior) and conditions in the distribution system (pipes). The pristine raw water from Lake Superior is very “soft” with little buffering capacity; the water may leach minerals and contaminants from whatever material it comes into contact with. The addition of sodium hydroxide prior to transmission through distribution pipes will adjust the pH to a level that reduces this leaching capability of the water. As a corrosion inhibitor, sodium hydroxide is the best choice to treat our source water of Lake Superior.
Will I be able to taste or smell sodium hydroxide in my tap water?
No. There will not be a difference in the taste or smell of your tap water.
Will the addition of sodium hydroxide in my drinking water have an adverse effect on my personal filter that I have installed?
No. However, for all privately-purchased water filtration systems it is recommended to always refer to the manufacturer’s instructions.
How will the addition of sodium hydroxide in our drinking water affect the treatment of waste water?
It is not expected that the addition of sodium hydroxide will affect our wastewater treatment process. The amount added will be small in relation to the many other substances found in raw sewage.

*Below, the American Water Works explains where lead comes from, how it gets into water, and what households can do to keep their water lead-safe: 

 *Excepted by permission. Copyright © American Water Works Association. 

 Lead service replacement

Prior to a watermain being replaced (performed by a private contractor under a capital contract), the City notifies the homeowner to discuss the replacement of the private portion of their service line. Prior to the City portion being replaced under the capital contract, testing of the tap water in the private residence is requested to provide a baseline lead result. If a homeowner wishes to have the private portion of their service line (property line to meter) replaced at the same time as the City portion, they must arrange with the on-site contractor to do the work at their own expense. A plumbing permit must be obtained, and a plumber must complete the final connection. Once the service line is partially or completely replaced, it is recommended that the tap water be tested again to ensure lead levels are reduced. Testing is free and arranged through the City by calling 684-3568.

On streets not scheduled for watermain renewal, homeowners may arrange with a contractor to replace the private portion (property line to meter) of their lead service line and the City will fund and complete the work extending from the property line to the watermain. It is preferred that the homeowner contact the City to arrange for lead testing prior to the replacement of their private portion to obtain a baseline lead result. The homeowner must obtain the required plumbing permit, hire a plumber for the final connection and have all final inspections done. Once this is complete the homeowner will submit a Priority Lead Water Service Replacement, with all documentation to The City of Thunder Bay Engineering Division. The homeowner completes the final restoration of their property, and the City will restore City property. The City processes such requests in sequence, the priority given to cases of elevated lead levels according to drinking water testing.

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

 Partial lead service replacement

Research indicates that when lead service lines are disturbed, the amount of lead found in consumer’s drinking water may increase for weeks to months. In the event a service line is partially replaced by the City or the homeowner, it is strongly recommended that private plumbing lines be flushed prior to consumption. After a partial replacement of a lead service line has been completed, the following steps should be taken prior to consuming the water from your tap.

  1. Remove and clean your faucet aerators from all cold water taps in the home.
  2. Beginning in the lowest level of the home, fully open the cold water taps throughout the home.
  3. Let the water run for at least 30 minutes at the last tap you opened (top floor).
  4. Turn off each tap starting with the taps in the highest level of the home. Be sure to run water in bathtubs and showers as well as faucets.
  5. Do not consume tap water, open hot water faucets or use icemaker or filtered water dispenser until flushing is complete.
  6. Replace cleaned aerators

In addition to the above instructions, a daily mini-flush consisting of a 5min displacement flush is recommended for 6 months post partial replacement of a lead service line. Aerators should be should be cleaned regularly to remove any particulate lead that may have accumulated.


It is also recommended that after a partial or full lead service line replacement, the water be tested to ensure lead levels at the tap are reduced. This testing is free and arranged through the City by calling 684-3568.

 How can you reduce your exposure to lead in drinking water

There are many steps you can take to reduce your exposure to lead in drinking water, but if you have a lead service line, the best step you can take is to have it replaced.
In addition you can:

  • Have your water tested for lead free of charge.
  • Run your water to flush the lead out – if it hasn’t been used for several hours, run the water for 3-5 minutes to clear most of the lead from the water. 
  • Always use cold water for drinking, cooking and preparing food – never cook with or drink water from the hot water tap.
  • Do not boil water to remove lead – boiling does not reduce lead concentrations.
  • Periodically remove and clean faucet screens / aerators – while removed run water to eliminate debris.
  • Identify and replace plumbing fixtures containing lead. Brass faucets, fittings and valves may leach lead into drinking water.
  • You may consider investing in a home water treatment device (filter system). When purchasing a water treatment device, make sure it is certified under NSF/ANSI 53 to remove lead. Search for certified products at NSF International (800-NSF-8010) or Water Quality Association (630-505-0160).

 What the City is doing to reduce lead

The City of Thunder Bay strives to reduce overall lead service connections and fixtures, provide ongoing watermain flushing/cleaning, increase overall water quality awareness and provide free testing for lead at the tap. The piped water infrastructure is renewed by the watermain replacement program, which also replaces the individual service connection to the property line (partial replacement). 

 How you can help

If you have a lead service, please contact the City to arrange for testing. A qualified licenced operator will come to your home and test your tap water free of charge. You will be provided with the results of the testing. You can also help by replacing your lead service line – reducing the amount of lead. If you replace your service line, follow the flushing instructions post replacement and contact the City for testing. Submit a priority lead replacement form through the Engineering Department so that the City can replace their portion of the service line. Once this full replacement is --complete, arrange for testing through the City to ensure lead levels have been reduced. Free testing can be arranged by contacting the City at 807-684-3568.

More information

Visit the Ministry of the Environment & Climate Change's Drinking Water Ontario website.

In addition, visit Health Canada's webpage on reducing your exposure to lead from drinking water.

For more information about Thunder Bay's drinking water, contact the Infrastructure & Operations Department at 807-625-2195.

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