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Questions about Lead In Drinking Water

Toronto Public Health strongly encourages residents in older homes with lead pipes to replace their pipes as the best way to reduce their exposure to lead in drinking water and to protect their family’s health.

What is lead and how does it get into my drinking water?

Prior to the mid-1950s, water service pipes were commonly made of lead, a soft metal that can affect health and has the most impact on the fetus, infant and children under six years old. Lead was also used to solder pipes together before 1990, and can be found in leaded-brass fixtures, such as faucets and valves. While passing through these pipes and fixtures, lead can be added to drinking water.

In 2011, Toronto City Council adopatepproved the Lead in Drinking Water Mitigation Strategy, a multi-pronged approach aimed at minimizing the occurrence of lead in tap water.

What is the City doing?

City Council adopted a Corrosion Control Plan for Mitigating Lead in Drinking Water in 2011. The plan involves a variety of tools for minimizing the occurrence of lead in tap water. The City is replacing the lead pipes on it’s part of the water distribution system.  You can find the schedule for that online here.

Free Water Kits

If you live in a single family home built before the mid-1950s, you may be eligible for a free water testing kit. People can obtain a free kit by calling 311.  You can read more about testing your water for lead online.

Actions for people who live in houses built before the mid-1950s

  1. Replace your lead service pipe. Toronto Public Health recommends replacing both portions of the lead service pipe – the City-owned portion and the portion on your property. If you have had one or both sides of your lead service pipe replaced, be sure to read the important health information that was distributed to your household.
  2. Install an end-of-tap water filter. Look for a filter that has been certified by the National Sanitation Foundation for lead removal and reduction. Install this filter on the water tap you use most often to get water for cooking or to drink. For information on good filters, call 1-800-673-8010 or visit the NSF website.
  3. Feeding your baby. Breast milk is the healthiest option for feeding your baby. If you are unable to breastfeed and you are using formula, begin with cold filtered tap water, boil it, and then let it cool. Use within 30 minutes. You can also consider using ready-to-feed formula.

Taps without a water filter used for cooking/drinking

  1. Flush your water. Every time your water has not been used for more than a few hours, run the water until it is very cold, and then let it run for at least 1 minute. This is called ‘flushing’ the pipes.
  2. Use cold water for cooking and drinking, even after flushing the pipes. Lead in pipes moves more readily into hot water than into cold water, so cold water is less likely to be contaminated.

Is lead harmful to my health?

Lead can affect how the brain and nervous system grows.

 Those at the highest risk include:

  • Pregnant women
  • Children under 6 years old
  • Infants drinking formula made from tap water

How can I tell if I have a lead water service pipe?

  1. Find out if you live in a house built before the mid-1950s. If so, it likely has a lead service pipe. If you own your house, check the purchase papers. If you rent, ask the owner.
  2. If possible, look at the pipe that goes into your water meter. If it is grey, scratches easily and does not sound hollow when you tap it, it may be lead.

General tips for reducing exposure to lead

  1. If you live in an older home, don’t sand or scrape the paint because it may contain lead. Paint used in homes built before 1980 can contain lead. This lead can get into your house dust so be sure to dust regularly with a wet mop or cloth.
  2. Children should wash their hands often, especially before eating and at bedtime, to remove any lead dust on their hands.
  3. Don’t wear your outdoor shoes inside the house. The dirt on the bottom of your shoes can contain lead or other pollutants.

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Suite C45, Second Floor
Toronto, ON M5H 2N2
Phone: 416-392-4032
Fax: 416-392-4123

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