Saturday, May 19, 2007

Ottawa Water Problem: Lead Are Coming Down the Pipe

Many homeowners Ottawa have underground lead pipes connecting their taps to municipal Ottawa water supplies.

Many, perhaps most, have no idea every time they draw a glass of water or put a pot of pasta on the stove that the water they use may be contaminated with lead.

Ottawa City officials have just begun to grapple with the extent of the problem and its potentially alarming health and financial implications.

Chief Drinking Water Inspector Jim Smith recently wrote every municipality in the province to recommend they begin testing homeowners' tap water for lead.

Few municipalities test homeowner tap water for lead. Testing is usually done at water treatment plants or from fire hydrants and municipal testing outlets.

Provincial law obliges municipalities to deliver safe water to the property line and so there's a dilemma over what to do about lead service lines on private property.

Nevertheless, there is sufficient concern over the potential that lead contamination has been underestimated.

Residents who suspect they have lead water lines, particularly if pregnant women or children under six live in the home, take precautions.

If you have lead service lines you should flush your lines, that's good practice.

The best solution is to replace lead lines.

Certainly you should work with our Ottawa municipality and have your lines replaced. It's good to get the lead out period.

There are two basic types of pipes underground - big water "mains" that carry water to neighbourhoods and small, hose-sized "service" lines connecting homes to the water supply.

During the 1930s and 1940s, lead "service" pipes were used to connect tens of thousands of new homes across Ontario, in every major cities (Ottawa, Toronto) and towns, to municipal water supplies.

Ottawa, Toronto, Kingston, Windsor, London, and most other communities that saw housing booms during the 1930s and 1940s almost certainly have lead service lines still in use.

London has had terrible problems with lead this past year and even after replacing lead service lines to homes, after repeatedly flushing water lines, tap water in those homes remains contaminated with lead at levels that exceed provincial standards.

The belief in the past was that flushing for 5 minutes effectively cleared lead from water lines.

Now that the City of London has offered free testing to a lot of its residents, that's not the case.

This gives considerable pause for concern.

Ontario, unlike the U.S., doesn't require municipalities to test tap water in homes nor is there a province-wide program to replace lead pipe.

Residents are primarily on the hook to replace lead service pipes and the cost can range from $2,000 to $10,000 or more.

Worse, municipalities aren't even required to inform residents they have lead pipes

That, at very least, should be addressed, said Gord Miller, Ontario's environmental commissioner.

Drawing people's attention to the need to be cautious about aspects of their drinking water related to lead pipes is a valid thing and it should be brought forward by the government and brought to people's attention so they can check it and they can take precautions.

There little reason for excuse. It's hypocritical for Ontario to impose the most stringent water standards in North America and ignore the problem in the pipes, a problem that's been evident for years.

Justice Dennis O'Connor, in his report on the Walkerton tainted water tragedy, specifically recommended that "lead service lines should be located and replaced over time" and took pains to detail the risks of lead to drinking water, including neurological problems in infants and children resulting from even "minute" exposure. Seven years after the tragedy, that recommendation has been largely ignored.

"The provinces and the federal government and most levels of government around the world have seen fit to ban lead in gasoline, they take the lead out of household paint and any number of materials," said Frank Zechner, executive director of the Ontario Sewer and Watermain Construction Association.

They stopped using lead in those pipes in the early '50s and they went to a lead-free solder more recently.

But the problem is those pipes are still in service. They are still leaching lead into the water.


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Anonymous yimin said...

Great blog! Please keep it coming. I am from Edmonton and thinking about moving to Ottawa. Although Ottawa's housing may have seen significant price increase in past few years, it is still mild compared to Edmonton and Calgary.

12:55 AM  

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