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Lead and Drinking Water

Lead is a metal commonly found in the environment, both naturally and as a result of human activities.1 Everyone is exposed to trace amounts of lead through air, soil, dust, food, drinking water and various consumer products,1 such as batteries, lead-painted wood, paint and unregulated cosmetics.

Ontario’s Drinking Water Quality Standards currently allow up to 10 micrograms per litre (parts per billion) of lead in drinking water.2 The Middlesex-London Health Unit works with municipalities to ensure that water throughout our jurisdiction consistently meets this standard.

What are the health effects of lead?

Health effects from lead toxicity that have been studied include neurological problems, increased blood pressure and kidney damage in adults, as well as, neurodevelopmental and behavioural effects in children.3 Infants and children tend to absorb lead more easily than adults and are therefore more at risk for its harmful effects.3 There is also evidence that associates high lead blood levels in pregnant women for increased risk of miscarriages and various other medical problems for your fetus and/or baby.3

How do I know if I have lead in my water?

For the most part, there is little lead in natural water sources in Canada. Therefore, the water coming out of drinking water treatment plants and groundwater sources is usually free from or contains very little lead.1 However, water can pick up lead if it flows through a lead water service, particularly pipes that bring water into houses and businesses. Since 1990, the Canadian National Plumbing Code has restricted the use of lead solder in new plumbing and in repairs to plumbing for drinking water supplies.1

To determine if you have lead services lines in your area, you can check with your municipality or water utility. If you live in the City of London and have questions about lead testing please contact the City of London at:

What should households do?

If you know or suspect you have a lead service line or fittings with lead solder, the best way to reduce your lead exposure is to replace all lead bearing materials and make sure that any solder in your plumbing is lead free. A licensed plumber would be able to assist you in the assessment of your interior piping. If you obtain drinking water from a private well, it is recommended that you have your water tested for lead by a licensed laboratory

Alternatively, water filters bearing the NSF international standard for lead reduction can be installed according to manufacturer’s instructions. Information for consumers regarding lead reducing filters can be found through a search for NSF Certified Drinking Water Treatment Units, Water Filters. If replacement is not possible, or will take time, it is recommended to use cold, flushed water for drinking and preparing food. Do not consume water from the hot water tap because heated water generally contains higher lead levels.4

It is important to note that boiling your water will NOT remove lead; in fact, this practice will actually INCREASE the levels of lead in your drinking water.

If I have lead service lines, can I use the water for bathing, showering, and washing dishes and clothes?

Yes. Bathing, showering, and washing dishes and clothes does not expose people to lead. Human skin does not absorb lead in water.4

I am still concerned about my family’s lead exposure. What should I do?

Your blood lead level is the best indication of your exposure to lead. Your doctor can do a blood test to measure your blood lead level. If you drink bottled water, be sure to check the label of the bottle to ensure the value of lead (or Pb) is 0.

If you have made an informed decision to formula feed your infant, it is important that formula is made with water below the standard, since infants are the most vulnerable to health effects of lead. The Middlesex-London Health Unit and Health Canada recommend breastfeeding exclusively for the first six months, with continued breastfeeding for up to two years and beyond.5 View breastfeeding for more information. If you have breastfeeding questions or you’re experiencing breastfeeding issues, please contact a Public Health Nurse at the Middlesex-London Health Unit (Monday - Friday; 8:30 a.m. - 4:30 p.m.) at:

  • 519-663-5317

Additional Information

For further information on the health effects of lead, please contact the Middlesex-London Health Unit:

  • 519-663-5317

For information on lead in the water, contact:

  • The City of London - 519-661-4739 ext. 5541, or
  • Check with your municipality or water utility.
 
Date of creation: May 21, 2014
Last modified on: January 5, 2021
 
 

References

1Government of Canada. (2009, April 23). Lead information package - Some commonly asked questions about lead and human health. Retrieved from
https://www.canada.ca/en/health-canada/services/environmental-workplace-health/environmental-contaminants/lead/lead-information-package-some-commonly-asked-questions-about-lead-human-health.html
2Ontario. Ministry of the Attorney General. (2003). Safe Drinking Water Act, 2002. Ontario Regulation 169/03 Ontario Drinking Water Quality Standards. Retrieved from
https://www.ontario.ca/laws/regulation/030169
3World Health Organization. (2019, August 23). Lead poisoning and health. Retrieved from
https://www.who.int/en/news-room/fact-sheets/detail/lead-poisoning-and-health
4Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2020, November 18). Lead in drinking water. Retrieved from https://www.cdc.gov/nceh/lead/prevention/sources/water.htm?CDC_AA_refVal=https%3A%2F%2Fwww.cdc.gov%2Fnceh%2Flead%2Ftips%2Fwater.htm
5Government of Canada (2015, August 18). Nutrition for healthy term infants: Recommendations from birth to six months. Retrieved from
https://www.canada.ca/en/health-canada/services/canada-food-guide/resources/infant-feeding/nutrition-healthy-term-infants-recommendations-birth-six-months.html