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Lead in drinking water

Lead is a metal commonly found in the environment from natural sources and human activities. It can be found in the air, soil, household dust, food, drinking water and consumer products such as paints. Lead may be found in tap water as a result of lead solder in plumbing pipes containing lead, some tap fixtures and lead water service lines that connect your home to the municipal water supply. Prior to 1952, lead was commonly used in household plumbing and water service lines. If water is allowed to remain for a period of time in plumbing that contains lead, the lead can dissolve into the water and enter drinking water.

According to Health Canada, high levels of lead can be harmful to human health. Young children, infants and pregnant women are at greater risk of harmful effects from long term exposures to elevated lead levels. Children less than six years of age are most at risk because they are still developing so they are more sensitive to the effects lead can have on the brain and blood. Limiting lead intake as much as possible during pregnancy is important because pregnant women can pass lead in their blood to their unborn baby.

Health Canada does not consider dermal absorption or inhalation from drinking water sources to be a significant route of exposure for lead. Showering or bathing does not result in lead exposure that would be a concern for health.

The provincial standard for lead in drinking water is 0.010 milligrams per litre. Testing of some older homes in Ontario with lead in the plumbing has found lead levels in drinking water above the provincial standards. If the level of lead in your drinking water is below 0.010 mg/L, it is safe to drink and use for food preparation.
The only way to know whether there is lead in your drinking water is to have it tested by a licensed laboratory. Municipal drinking water systems are tested regularly, but if you suspect there is lead plumbing in your home, you can test your water through a private laboratory that is provincially licensed to perform drinking water testing.

Boiling water will not reduce the amount of lead in your drinking water. To reduce the amount of lead in drinking water, following the precautions below is recommended:

Lead levels increase as water stands in pipes. Run the water from the drinking water tap to flush or remove any standing water if it has been sitting in the pipes for a few hours (i.e. first thing in the morning). The water should be flushed for at least five minutes or until the water is cold. Health Canada has some more information on flushing water on their website and ways to reduce lead in drinking water.

Use cold, flushed water for drinking and preparing food. Water from the hot water tap should not be used as it may contain more lead.

Remove aerators from taps on occasion and flush out any debris that has collected.

Filtration devices that meet the National Sanitation Foundation (NSF) International Standards for lead reduction may also be used. If you choose to use a filtration device, ensure that it is installed and maintained (or replaced) according to the instructions provided by the manufacturer.

For pregnant women and children under six years of age who live in a home with high lead levels, finding an alternate source of water is recommended. This can include drinking bottled water or using an approved filter attached to the tap that meets the National Sanitation Foundation International Standards.

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