As Health Canada’s new guidelines come into effect next year for lead in drinking water, Edmonton-based water utility EPCOR is eyeing fixes to assist older homes with lead service lines, while it optimizes its own lead management program.
Right now, the allowable amount of lead per litre of water is 10 micrograms (0.01 mg/L). The 2019 guidelines will cap that at five micrograms or 0.005 mg/L. Additionally, the new guidelines will insist samples be taken at the tap.
One of the ideas EPCOR is currently testing is whether adding a corrosion inhibitor will actively stop lead leaking in from pipes or fixtures. Corrosion can be caused by several factors, including the type of materials used, the age of the piping and fittings, the stagnation time of the water in pipes, and the water quality.
Overall, EPCOR officials have stated in media interviews that some 13% of the city’s homes may not meet the new federal lead guidelines for drinking water. More specifically, there are a small number of Edmonton homes (about 4,000) that have lead water service lines on the utility side. The majority of these homes were built before the early 1950s when lead was one of the options homebuilders had when choosing a material for service lines. Today, the preferred materials are copper and plastic.
Lead is a naturally occurring metal, and was previously used in many applications, but is now a known health risk, particularly for children under the age of six and pregnant women.
According to Health Canada’s research on lead in drinking water, residential water is free of lead coming out of the treatment plants; however, it is “usually found in drinking water as a result of leaching from distribution and plumbing system components. Historically, lead has been used extensively in service lines, solders and fittings, making its presence in drinking water more likely in older homes and neighbourhoods.”
According to EPCOR, its recent testing has shown that even newer homes have the potential to exceed the new proposed guideline as in-house plumbing, such as old solder, brass plumbing fixtures and lead deposits in the plumbing system may also be a source of lead.
EPCOR officials also suggested running water through the tap before drinking it if it’s been stagnant, such as after a vacation or even in the morning, in older homes. Two to three minutes should clear any lead that may have leeched.
EPCOR has posted detailed information on its website for homeowners to address lead. To proactively tackle the issue, the utility sends annual letters to homes where the utility’s portion of the service line is lead; offers complimentary water sampling to test levels of lead in drinking water at the tap; offers free one-time, point-of-use filters certified to remove lead; educates customers and provides advice on maintaining good water quality; and replaces the utility’s portion of lead service lines.
How to maintain good water quality in your home
- Do not use water from your hot taps for drinking, eating, cooking or baking. Only consume water from your cold taps, then heat it up if needed.
- Run your cold water tap for at least three minutes any time you haven’t used the water for six or more hours, if you will be drinking or cooking with it.
- Consider using a water filter that is NSF-53 Certified for lead reduction. Home improvement stores sell these filters, and they can be tap-mounted units, under-the-counter units, fridge water dispenser units or a filtered water pitcher.
- Consider having your tap water tested for lead.