Lead in Toronto Water Mains
According to a 2014 Star investigation, 13 per cent of tests taken by Toronto residents between 2008 and early 2014 failed Health Canada’s standard of less than 10 parts per billion. Between 2015 and August 2017, the failure rate improved to 1.8 per cent, according to a Metro analysis of publicly available data.
Toronto Water’s own testing showed improvement, too. From 2008 to 2009, 35 per cent of tested households with known or suspected lead pipes failed the standard. The same test in 2015 and 2016 saw the failure rate drop to 1.3 per cent, according to an annual staff report that will go before council’s Public Works committee next week.
Despite the positive signs, Toronto Water warns against rushing to conclusions, adding in the report that the corrosion control program “will take several years to determine the full impact.”
Consuming lead has several negative health effects. The body can’t process the element and can’t distinguish it from calcium. As a result, the toxic substance can stay lodged in organs, potentially stunting development and causing neurological damage. Children are particularly vulnerable.
Lead pipes are generally located in homes built before 1950. City staff estimate that 31,000 of Toronto’s 437,000 single-family dwellings have lead pipes.
Coun. Janet Davis, who closely watches water issues at city hall, called the results “promising.” But she says the city must not become complacent when it comes to reducing lead levels and replacing pipes.
“The public health literature is very clear: There is no safe level of lead in water,” she said. “There really is no serious effort to replace lead pipes.”
In 2008 the city hoped to eliminate lead pipes by 2016 — but they are only halfway to that goal and the rate of replacement has slowed in recent years, according to the latest city report.