The City of Charlottetown is trying to reassure residents concerned about lead pipes in the city's water infrastructure, after a lead contamination crisis in Flint, Mich., has some wondering if P.E.I.'s capital could suffer the same fate.
After Flint changed its water supply to the Flint River from Lake Huron, tests found the water so corrosive it ate away at water pipes and caused lead to leach into the tap water.
"People know we have lead piping and they're inquiring what condition are they in," said Coun. Edward Rice, who also chairs the city's Water and Sewer Utility Committee, noting the city has received many calls and emails from worried residents.
Even though about 2,000 houses are still attached to old lead piping in what the city calls the downtown, old Charlottetown system, built before 1952, officials said in a written release Tuesday there's no reason for concern.
"Although we do have older systems and there is some corrosion taking place we don't see a lot of corrosion in the service pipes," said water and sewer utility manager Craig Walker.
"And the materials in the service pipes, so they're still in as good of condition as any lead pipe would be in this system."
Charlottetown's hard water also helps keep corrosion down, said Walker, adding water is tested 12 to 25 times a year for irregularities including lead.
In his 27 years on the job, Walker said he has seen very few cases of high lead levels.
How to check your pipes
If residents are concerned, officials suggest they first identify whether they have a lead service pipe to their home.
"Go into the basement, find where the service pipe comes into the house and check to see what the material is," Walker advised.
"Fairly straightforward to tell the difference between a plastic, copper, iron or lead pipe. Most folks would know lead being a grey, soft type metal."
After that, he said, ensuring lead buildup doesn't happen is as easy as a flush.
"First thing in the morning as your first water is drawn off, a shower or flushing the toilets certainly eliminates the water that's been sitting in that pipe," Walker said.
The city has slowly been replacing the lead pipes since 2001 when there is new construction in an old area, or when maintenance issues occur.
"However we still have our big issues: water supply and the water separation, and that's been our concentration," added Rice.
If a homeowner wants to get the pipes leading into their home replaced, they may through a private contractor, and Walker said the city will literally meet them halfway.
"If they do their part, we'll come in and do our part as quickly afterwards as we can. That way it ensures the whole service is renewed," he said.
"If we replace our part [and] the homeowner doesn't replace theirs, you can actually set up a process where corrosion starts to get aggravated."
The city has also published a document on its website with more tips on avoiding lead in your water.