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Lead in Your Drinking Water

The Ontario Drinking Water Quality Standard for lead in drinking water is 10 micrograms per litre.

  • What is lead and how does it get into my drinking water?
  • Is lead harmful to my health?
  • How can I tell if there is lead in my water pipes?
  • What is the City of Toronto doing about lead in drinking water?
  • Actions for people who live in houses built before the mid-1950’s
  • What about bathing, swimming, and washing dishes or clothes in water from lead pipes?
  • More ways to reduce your contact with lead

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

Lead is a soft metal that was used to make many products, including water pipes. One of the main ways that lead gets into your drinking water is when the water pipe that goes to your home from the underground watermain is made of lead. This pipe is called the “service line”. The longer that the water sits in the service line, the more lead will be found in the water. If you live in a house built before the mid-1950s, your service line could be made of lead. If you live in an apartment building of any age, your service line would not be made of lead – lead service lines were not used for large buildings. Smaller amounts of lead may have been used as the “solder” or seam of service lines in any home (including apartment buildings) built before 1989. As well, you may find lead inside a home’s plumbing system. These smaller sources of lead are not usually as much of a health concern as the larger amounts of lead in the service lines of houses built before the mid-1950s.

Is lead harmful to my health?

Lead can affect how the brain and nervous system grows and has the most impact on the fetus, infants and children under six years old. Infants who are fed formula made with tap water from lead pipes could be getting the highest amount of lead from drinking water because this is their main source of food. If a young child has too much lead in their body, it can make it harder for them to learn new things, sit still and get along with other kids. Adults and children over six years old are not likely to be affected by the amount of lead in drinking water.

How can I tell if there is lead in my water pipes?

  • Find out if you live in a house built before the mid-1950s because it is likely to have a lead service line. If you own your house, you can look at the papers from when you bought it. If you rent your place, ask the owner.
  • If it is 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.

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

Until both parts of your water service line are replaced, follow these steps to reduce the amount of lead that your family might be drinking:

  1. Flush your pipes if your water has not been used for more than a few hours. Do this by running the water until it is very cold and then letting it run for at least 1 minute.
  2. Use cold water for cooking, drinking and making baby formula, even after flushing the pipe, because lead dissolves into hot water more easily than cold water. Boiling the water does not remove lead.
  3. Breastfeed your baby. The amount of lead in breast milk is much lower than in tap water and is healthy for your baby to drink.
    HOWEVER, if you are pregnant, have a child under six years old, or are feeding your baby formula made with tap water, we strongly suggest that you follow steps 4 and 5. (If you are feeding your baby breast milk ONLY, steps 1 and 2 above are all you need to do.)
  4. Install an end-of-tap water filter. Look for filters certified by the National Sanitation Foundation that have “NSF-53 for lead removal/reduction” on the label. The jug-type filters will remove some lead but not all of it, so the best filter is one that you put onto the end of your tap. For information on good filters, call 1-800-673-8010 or visit the NSF web site at www.nsf.org.
  5. Until you have a filter, consider using bottled water for drinking or making baby formula. You can also consider using ready-made formula.

What about bathing, swimming, and washing dishes or clothes in water from lead pipes?

These activities will not cause significant exposure to lead. Lead in water is not easily absorbed through the skin or eyes.

More ways to reduce your contact with lead

If your house or apartment is built after the mid-1950s, but before 1989, follow steps 1 and 2 above to reduce the small amounts of lead that might be in your water from the solder (or seams) in your plumbing. This is all you need to do, even if you are pregnant, breastfeeding, have a child under six years old or are feeding your baby formula made with tap water.
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.
Have your children wash their hands often, especially before eating and at bedtime. This way, if lead dust gets on their fingers, it will go down the sink instead of into their mouths.
Don’t wear your outdoor shoes inside your home. Soil on the bottom of your shoes can be quite dirty and can even sometimes contain lead.

Water Superstore can help.  Check out our wide variety of Reverse Osmosis Systems.