Newspaper article The Canadian Press

Flint, Mich., Is Not Alone: Lead Is in Canadian Pipes Too, Experts Say

Newspaper article The Canadian Press

Flint, Mich., Is Not Alone: Lead Is in Canadian Pipes Too, Experts Say

Article excerpt

Lead is in Canadian pipes too, experts say


TORONTO - Water toxicity experts estimate that at least 200,000 Canadian households are at risk of being exposed to lead through their drinking water as Americans in Flint, Mich., grapple with a drinking water scandal.

Research funded by the Canadian Water Network found that many of the country's older cities still have lead service lines connecting the home to the municipal water supply.

Lead researcher Michele Prevost says that while newer communities may not feature lead anywhere in their water infrastructure, cities built before 1950 often have thousands of homes that still rely on lead service lines.

Prevost, the principal chair on drinking water with the National Science and Engineering Research Council, says many municipalities aren't even aware of how many of the potentially dangerous lines are in use.

But she says some municipalities have made a concerted effort to address the issue and protect residents from lead exposure, which the study says is unsafe for human consumption in any quantity.

Despite those efforts, Prevost says the prospect of a crisis like the one in Flint can't be ruled out.

"We have several large cities that date way back before 1950 in Canada," Prevost said in a telephone interview. "So all of these older cities have lead service lines, and some of them have large numbers over and above 65,000 per city.

The size of a community can also present another risk factor, according to Prevost and other researchers.

Graham Gagnon, director for the Centre of Water Resources Studies at Dalhousie University, said smaller communities are at a disadvantage compared to large centres with the means of cataloguing and replacing problematic pipes.

``For the smaller to mid-sized municipalities ... it wouldn't necessarily surprise me, only from the standpoint that the resources needed to mount a lead service line replacement program are pretty substantial," Gagnon said of the likelihood of a Flint-style situation in Canada. "Knowing some of these cities, they would be challenged to really take this on.''

Gagnon also stressed that the home is not the only potential source of exposure. Lead service lines are more prevalent in large buildings such as schools, he said, adding that toxicity could also come about through fixtures, faucets or other components containing lead.

Not all cities are at equal risk of lead exposure through their main infrastructure.

Bu Lam, manager of municipal programs at the Canadian Water Network, said communities built before about 1950 are far more likely to have used lead in either their municipal water mains or the service lines connecting them to local buildings.

The period between 1950 and 1990 served as a transition period, when cities began shifting away from the toxic material, he said. …

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