20 May

Toronto councillors mull solutions to lead-tainted drinking water

Source: http://www.thestar.com/ By: Jessica McDiarmid News reporter

A Star investigation showed 13 per cent of water samples tested from 2008 to 2014 contained dangerous amounts of lead. The city is slowly replacing its pipes and seeking ways to get homeowners to do the same.
Statistics from six years of household water testing in Toronto reveal that 13 per cent of the 15,000 homes tested exceeded safe lead levels.

The city needs to ramp up efforts to address unsafe levels of lead in drinking water, said city councillors in the wake of a Star investigation showing 13 per cent of water samples from some 15,000 households contained unsafe amounts of the toxic substance.
“This is a great concern,” said Ward 13 Councillor Sarah Doucette (see Sarah Doucette’s policard). “People assume when you turn a tap on that it’s going to be safe.”
The samples were collected between 2008 and 2014 by homeowners concerned about lead levels in their drinking water. Test results, obtained by the Star through freedom of information, showed more than 2,000 samples exceeded what Health Canada defines as the maximum acceptable concentration of 10 parts per billion, though many researchers contend there is no safe level.
Lead in water comes from the pipes carrying it into a home, partly owned by the city, partly by the homeowner. There are an estimated 40,000 houses in Toronto that still rely on lead pipes.
Toronto ramped up its replacement of lead pipes in 2007, but many homeowners failed to replace the pipes on their side of the property divide, often citing the roughly $3,000 cost. In 2011, the city scaled back its replacement program from 11,000 annually to 5,000.
Part of that number consists of 3,000 annual planned replacements of substandard water pipes, about two-thirds of which are lead. The city also allots up to 1,500 replacements for homeowners outside planned areas who commit to dig out their lead pipes and apply for the city to do the work on its side. The city is also adding food-grade phosphate to drinking water to reduce corrosion that releases lead into the supply.
City Councillor Denzil Minnan-Wong (see Denzil Minnan-Wong’s policard), who chairs the public works and infrastructure committee, said subsidies or loans for homeowners to help offset costs, which are offered in some other communities, need careful consideration.
“Any additional costs are going to have to come from some place, which is probably the homeowners’ pocket,” said Minnan-Wong. “The city will take care of its piece, but (homeowners) need to fix their own infrastructure.”
Joe Mihevc (see Joe Mihevc’s policard), Ward 21 councillor and chair of the Toronto Board of Health, said the city needs to step up its work to previous levels.
“The second piece is education work,” said Mihevc. “Check out your lead pipes, check out your home … Pay the money and get it done; it’s your health.”
Doucette pointed to the city’s Home Energy Loan Program, a pilot that provides low-interest loans to homeowners who want to make their houses more energy efficient, as a possible framework for a similar program to replace lead pipes.
“Maybe we should look at loans where we can help residents who can’t do the upfront amount,” said Doucette. “We do have to help residents if they find they do have lead in their water and they want to do something about it; money should not be the object.”
With files from Robert Cribb, Matthew Cole and Paul Moloney