Lead pipes a prevalent problem, says Edmonton woman poisoned by tap water

An Edmonton woman poisoned by her home’s lead water pipes says hundreds of Edmontonians are also being exposed to toxic drinking water.

An estimated 3,500 homes in Edmonton still have lead service pipes

Lee Anne Pedersen, who spoke about the dangers of lead piping in Edmonton, says the concentration of lead in her system was three times the norm. (CBC Edmonton)

An Edmonton woman who was poisoned by her home's lead water pipes says hundreds of Edmontonians are also being exposed to toxic drinking water.

For almost two years, Lee Anne Pedersen was feeling ill, but after trying different medications and treatments, her doctor could not provide a clear diagnosis, and her symptoms persisted.

In attempt to find a cause for her chronic Hypothyroidism — low levels of thyroid hormones which cause a myriad of symptoms including fatigue, depression, hair loss and memory problems — Pedersen's doctor tested her for heavy metals.

"There was three times more lead in my system than what they would expect to see in a woman of my age," said Pedersen during a Thursday morning interview on Edmonton AM.

"I was way over into the red."

When the test results came back last June, Pedersen immediately called EPCOR. The company tested Pedersen's water and found lead concentrations more twice as high as deemed safe by Health Canada.

"They normally have a two month waiting list for water testing," Pedersen said. "But after I told them the results of my test, they had a technician out to my house the next morning."

The service pipe into Pedersen's 70-year old home was made of lead, the company confirmed.

"Given the age of the house, it didn't exactly come as a surprise, but I figured someone would have fixed the problem before this," said Pedersen, who is expecting the results of a followup test from her doctor next week.

"I'm hoping some of my symptoms will get better, but I've been told the damage done by lead poisoning is permanent, so I'll wait and see."

Although Pedersen was provided with a water filter for her tap to ensure her drinking water meets safety standards, a permanent solution will be harder to come by.

Because the toxic pipe sits on private property, Pedersen will need to have it replaced at her own expense. She expects that an excavation of the line, which runs under her garage, and will cost upwards of $10,000.

A prevalent problem 

EPCOR estimates the service lines connecting about 3,500 older Edmonton homes are still made of the poisonous metal.

"We initially estimated that there was some 4,600 homes or small businesses, private properties with lead pipe servicing, " company spokesperson Tim Leriche said.

"We think, over the years since then, about a thousand of those have properties have had that lead service piping replaced."  

EPCOR has replaced all lead water mains in Edmonton. However, every home has a service line that runs from the water main under the street to the home.

Leriche says the problem pipes are most often found in older neighbourhoods, which date back to Edmonton's post war construction boom in the 1940's, when lead was still widely used in plumbing.

"There is no, or very little lead coming out of the drinking water in Edmonton's two drinking water plants, " said Leriche.

"If you have a home that was built later than the 1950's then you probably don't have anything to worry about."

EPCOR notifies homeowners it suspects have lead service pipes. The company will test the water of concerned residents and will also provide a filter to customers with lead pipes.

Pedersen does not blame EPCOR or the city for failing to warn her of the risks, but wants owners of older homes to learn from her ordeal and get their drinking water tested. 

"I'm just lucky I caught it so soon," she said.  


To encourage thoughtful and respectful conversations, first and last names will appear with each submission to CBC/Radio-Canada's online communities (except in children and youth-oriented communities). Pseudonyms will no longer be permitted.

By submitting a comment, you accept that CBC has the right to reproduce and publish that comment in whole or in part, in any manner CBC chooses. Please note that CBC does not endorse the opinions expressed in comments. Comments on this story are moderated according to our Submission Guidelines. Comments are welcome while open. We reserve the right to close comments at any time.