Changes to City's drinking water system

In early 2020, an adjustment was made to the pH of the City's drinking water by phasing out the addition of sodium hydroxide. Before the summer of 2020, the pH of the drinking water returned to the same level as in 2017. Lead levels are expected to increase for customers with lead service pipes. 

Info resources:
Changes to the City's Drinking Water (PDF)
Drinking Water Update brochure (PDF)
Our Drinking Water webpage

Water filters for homes with lead service pipes:
One 11 cup Ultimate Pitcher Filtration System and six replacement filters were provided in early 2020 to all customers with lead service pipes, to eliminate the risk of consuming lead while drinking tap water. If you purchased a home in 2021 and believe you may have a lead service pipe, please call City Dispatch at 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 & Operations Dispatch at 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 short term (1.5 year supply) 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 $3,000 of eligible costs are available, for five years, or 10 years 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.

Loan 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 short term, lead levels will be reduced in properties with lead service connection with a NSF/ANSI 53 approved water filter in 2020. 

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. 

In addition, you should also routinely clean your faucet screens

*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 684-3568.

Past public engagement and information materials

The City hosted a series of Public Information Session regarding the Corrosion Control Plan and also distributed public notices to customers with their water bills:

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 625-2195.

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