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Testing provides clearer picture of lead issue

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Recent testing has provided a clearer picture of the issue of lead in the water coming out of the taps of city residences.
The testing was conducted after participation in a voluntarily provincial assessment of drinking water showed, in some cases, elevated lead levels.
The assessment was conducted in anticipation of Health Canada changing the standards for lead in drinking water from 10 micrograms to five micrograms and moving testing from the distribution system to the tap.
As the water being delivered to homes is lead free, at the time city officials were of the opinion that lead was entering water once it reached homes because of either lead service lines, lead in the solder for copper pipes and lead in brass fixtures.
Recent testing has borne that out.
“Based on (tests) if you have a lead service, there is a 75 per cent chance that you are going to be greater than the existing, or the proposed new standard,” said Bill Brenner, director of Public Works and Operations.
“On lead services we had 24 per cent which were less than five micrograms, which is the new standard, and then every thing else was between five and 10 or more than 10 micrograms.”
The city has 445 lead service connections still in existence out of a total of 3,500.
“People with the lead services, we are telling them they should probably look at alternate water sources, or getting a filter, or, ultimately, removing all of the sources of lead. So the lead service and any copper plumbing they might have, those kinds of things,”Brenner said.
But, he added the lead services are not the only cause of the problem as random testing on homes without lead service connections have also produced elevated lead levels.
“About 20 per cent of them were greater than the five micrograms, as well, and they didn’t have a lead service. So it is a combination of either lead solder in the plumbing systems within the home or brass fixtures that have lead in them, as well, Brenner said, adding the use of solder containing lead was discontinued in the late 1980s.
“So you can probably extrapolate that over the whole community. Anything built prior to 1990, 20 per cent of them will probably have lead exceeding the proposed new standard.”
Brenner added city employees conducted the testing have also encountered steel galvanized plumbing in some homes, which also contains lead.
“So there is all kinds of factors that could be at play,” he said.
As a long-term solution to the problem the city, Brenner said, the city is exploring the idea of using orthophosphates in the treatment system.
Essentially orthophosphate is a product which would coat all the pipes in the community and would stop lead from leeching into the water as it passes through.
The product is currently being used in Winnipeg and Portage la Prairie, Brenner said.
“We have asked Water Services Board to partner with us to do a study to determine if it is feasible and if it will work in our community,” he said.
“We would hire a consultant to determine, first of all, will it work with our water, because it is all water sensitive. So will it work, will it work with our piping systems. If it does, how much are we looking at adding, what kind and what is that going to cost.”
Brenner said the idea of using orthophosphates has been on the table since day one and the city has been talking with Manitoba Health and the Office of Drinking Water. about the product
“We are just waiting to hear back from the Water Services Board,” Brenner said.
“For us, because it doesn’t appear that lead services are the only issue, once this new standard comes into place, we are going to have to protect everybody. So that is really our only option right now.”
“The new standard probably won’t come into effect for two to three years. So as long as we have it in place prior to then, we should be good.”