Lead is a heavy metal that occurs naturally in the environment. Lead was used extensively in the plumbing industry and has appeared in a wide variety of consumer products including paint, gasoline, lead crystal, solder in food cans and glazes used for pottery and dinnerware. Since the early 1970s the use of lead in consumer products has steadily declined, significantly reducing lead exposure in Canada.
Older homes built prior to the mid-1950s are more likely to have lead pipes and service lines. If your home was built between the mid-1950s and 1989, you likely do not have lead pipes or service line, but there might be lead in some fixtures or solder used to connect your pipes. Homes built after 1989 are unlikely to have any lead in pipes, service lines, solder or joints.
If you suspect there may be lead in your plumbing system, take the precautions listed below or have your water tested for the presence of lead.
What should I do if I live in a house with lead service lines?
Run the water from the drinking water tap if it has been sitting in the pipes for six hours or more. Water should be flushed for at least five minutes.
Use cold, flushed water for drinking and preparing food. Water from the hot water tap should NOT be consumed, as heated water may contain higher lead levels.
Who is most affected by lead exposure?
Younger children age six and under are still developing and are more sensitive to the neurological and blood effects of lead. Children generally absorb lead more easily than adults.
Pregnant women can pass lead in the blood to their fetus during pregnancy. Lead levels for pregnant women should be kept as low as possible.
What should households with children under six and/or pregnant women do if they have lead service lines?
If your water has been shown to have lead levels below the standard of 10 micrograms per litre, it is recommended that you run your water for at least five minutes after an extended period of non-use. Filtration systems or bottled water are not needed in this case.
If your water has been shown to have lead levels above the standard of 10 micrograms per litre, children and pregnant women should use an approved filtration system to reduce lead or use bottled water. This recommendation is particularly important for infants whose formula is prepared by adding tap water to liquid concentrate or powder.
Do breastfeeding mothers need to use filtered water or bottled water if they have lead service pipes?
No. The amount of lead found in the breast milk of women who drink tap water in homes served by lead service lines does not constitute a risk to their infant’s health. Breastfeeding mothers should follow the recommendations for non-pregnant women.
Not all lead filters are capable of reducing lead levels below 10 micrograms per litre. Please read the manufacturer’s instructions before purchasing and/or using a lead filter to ensure it is capable of meeting your requirements. Take caution when purchasing and/or using lead reduction filters. They do not ensure complete removal of all lead in your drinking water and may not reduce lead levels below 10 micrograms per litre.
As of July 16, 2007, pour-through filters have been identified as incapable of reducing lead in drinking water to acceptable levels according to NSF International.