WATER TESTING FOR LEAD IN OLDER HOMES – information from CMHC

Who May Be at Risk?
•Do you live in a home built before 1960?
•Was the plumbing in your home installed before 1990?
•Do you live near an industry (such as a lead-battery recycling factory) where lead has been used?

Approximately one out of four Canadian dwellings was built prior to 1960. It is best to assume that a dwelling constructed before 1960 contains leaded paint. If you answered “yes”, or “I don’t know”, to any of the above questions, your family may be at risk of lead exposure. While not all older homes pose lead hazards, some do, and there are precautionary measures that you need to be aware of as a homeowner or tenant. Read on to learn more.

Wasn’t Lead Phased Out of Paint and Other Products?
Yes. Beginning in the mid-1970s the federal government began reducing the amount of lead legally allowed in paint. In the mid-1980s canners voluntarily stopped using lead solder for canned goods. In December 1990, leaded gasoline was banned for most applications. These protective measures have aided in reducing average blood lead levels of Canadian children over the past two decades; however, there are still some children in Canada who remain at risk of lead exposure.

Residential Sources of Lead

The three main sources of lead exposure in housing come from
•water
•soil
•paint/paint dust

Water: In most of Canada, the concentration of lead in natural water supplies is very low. However, significant levels of lead in drinking water can result from the use of lead solder in plumbing, lead service connections that link the house to the main water supply, or lead pipes in the home. Check with your province’s drinking water regulator to confirm the regulations or guidelines for lead in drinking water which apply to you. All jurisdictions base their requirements on the Guidelines for Canadian Drinking Water Quality, which specify that the lead level in drinking water drawn from a tap allowed to run until the water gets cold must be below 10 parts per billion. Lead was, at one time, the choice material for use in service connectors, the pipe that brings household water from the city or town water main. It was also commonly employed in “well-built” homes prior to 1920 and 50 per cent lead solder was used to join household plumbing until the late 1980s. Learn about testing your water for lead.

Why Is Lead so Dangerous?

Lead is what is known as a neurotoxicant or a brain poison. Even in very small amounts, lead can harm the developing brain and nervous system of fetuses and young children, which can lead to behavioural and learning difficulties. Lead can also interfere with the way that hemoglobin (the oxygen carrying part of blood) is produced. Lead can disturb processes essential to vitamin D and calcium metabolism. Chronic, or long-term lead exposure, can lead to high blood pressure and peripheral vascular disease. It is generally agreed that there is no safe level of lead exposure, although risk of suffering adverse health effects from lead exposure will decline as exposure declines.

Testing Your Home for Lead
While not all older homes contain leaded paint, assume your house does until you have had a laboratory analysis of your paint or paint dust. While lead paint usually does not pose a problem if it is intact, it does become a hazard once it is disturbed. Here are the various methods for determining if your house contains lead hazards.

Testing Drinking Water for Lead
If your house was built prior to 1990, there is the possibility for elevated lead levels in your water due to leaded pipes or leaded solder. If it was built prior to 1960, you may have leaded services. In these cases, testing is essential to determine the amount of lead in your drinking water. Any testing of your drinking water should be done by a laboratory which has been accredited by the Canadian Association for Environmental Analytical Laboratories (CAEAL), who are partnered with the Standards Council of Canada (SCC). Although lead test kits are available from stores for drinking water, they are not generally considered accurate or reliable.

Well water: Submersible pumps, especially the leaded-brass variety can release lead into drinking water. People dependent upon well water should have their water tested for lead levels.

REDUCING YOUR EXPOSURE TO LEAD IN YOUR HOUSE

What Do I Do If My Drinking Water Contains Lead?
The test results will let you know if you need to take steps to reduce the amount of lead in your water. If both the standing sample and the flushed sample are less than 10 micrograms lead per litre (ìg/L), your drinking water is fine. If the flushed sample is under 10 ìg/L, but the standing sample is over, then run your water until it is cold before using it for drinking or cooking. To avoid wasting water each time you want to drink, consider keeping a container of flushed water handy in the fridge. Other options are to flush your toilet or take a shower first thing in the morning before taking drinking water. If both flushed and standing samples are over 10 ìg/L, contact your City or Town’s public works department to investigate the problem.

Some municipalities provide free water testing for lead.
If the problem turns out to be lead service connectors or lead from your house plumbing, you need to look at replacement of these systems. This can be costly. A good interim measure is to either purchase bottled water or a filter that is effective for reducing lead in water. Make sure any product you buy is certified as meeting the NSF International standard for reducing lead by a certification organization accredited by the Standards Council of Canada.

Collecting a Drinking Water Sample
In most cases, water that is sampled for metals is taken directly from the tap (usually the kitchen tap). Generally, the homeowner will be provided with appropriate sampling bottles and specific sampling instructions by the testing laboratory. In cases where these are not provided, you will need:
•two small, clean, clear plastic bottles with lids that fasten securely
•labels
•marking pen

When sampling for lead, take two samples:
1. An overnight, or standing sample, is a tap water sample taken usually first thing in the morning. This water has been sitting in the pipes overnight, or for at least six hours, and will give you a clearer picture of how much lead is accumulating in your pipes.
2. A flushed sample is water that has been let to run for approximately three minutes, until all water that has been resting in the household pipes has been flushed out. Flushed water will be cold because it is water coming from the water main (buried under the street). The time needed for flushing the lines depends upon the length of plumbing coming from the water main, the diameter of the plumbing itself, and how open the taps are during flushing.

What to Do:
1. Collect 250 ml or about one cup of water for each sample.
2. Keep samples separate; label them “flushed” and “unflushed.”
3. Refrigerate and store samples in a clean, clear plastic water bottle.
4. Fill out a laboratory form describing your samples and the date they were collected.
5. Send your samples to an accredited laboratory for analysis. To find a lab, search the Yellow Pages for “Laboratories – Analytical and Testing”

Interpreting the results
The Guidelines for Canadian Drinking Water Quality for lead are 10 micrograms lead per litre water (10 ìg/L) or 0.01 milligrams of lead per litre water (0.01 mg/L). If the laboratory tests indicate levels higher than this, you should take the steps listed above to reduce your exposure to the lead in your drinking water.

RainSoft Reverse Osmosis is the best way to remove lead from your water, city or well.

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