City offers water quality tests to 23,000 homes thought to have lead pipes, then caps participants at 200

It took just a single day for the City of Winnipeg to reach its limit of volunteers to have testing done on the quality of the water coming from the taps in their homes.

Testing mandated by province after feds set new lead guidelines for drinking water

The City of Winnipeg was ordered to do the surveys by the province's regulator. (Travis Golby CBC )

It took just a single day for the City of Winnipeg to reach its limit of volunteers to have testing done on the quality of the water coming from the taps in their homes.

Many residents received the notices in the mail Tuesday or Wednesday this week. 

The city sent out the mailer to approximately 23,000 homes in Winnipeg that may have lead pipes, offering the test and a list of ways to avoid higher lead content in drinking water.

By mid-afternoon Wednesday, the city had reached the goal of 200 volunteer tests required for this year by Manitoba's Office of Drinking Water.

The city has identified 23,000 homes with lead pipes. Most of those were built before 1950 and spread through multiple neighbourhoods. (Jacques Marcoux/CBC )

The survey comes after the federal government lowered the standard for the permitted level of lead found in drinking water. As of March, the maximum allowable lead level in drinking water has been reduced to 0.005 milligrams per litre. 

That's half the previously established limit.

The city was ordered by Manitoba's Office of Drinking Water to do the survey. 

Homeowner Quinn Taylor says changing out the lead pipes in his home would be an expensive option. (Travis Golby CBC)

Quinn Taylor and his partner got the letter on Tuesday and thought the idea of a free water quality test was a good one.

"[It] sounds like the city is taking a new interest in the lead content of the water coming into our home and it seemed like it was something we'd be interested in looking into, given it was a free assessment," Taylor said.

The city is offering free testing, but insists there is nothing wrong with the water.

"Just because the guideline has changed does not mean the water quality is unsafe. It is the same water you drank yesterday," says Renee Grosselle, the city's manager of environmental standards.

Renee Grosselle with the city's environmental standards department says Winnipeg's water system is admired and studied across the country. (Lyzaville Sale CBC )

Grosselle says Winnipeg is actually ahead of many Canadian municipalities in dealing with lead content in drinking water. The water coming from Shoal Lake has no detectable lead in it and the city puts in an additive during treatment to stop lead in residential pipes from contaminating the water. 

"We do add a chemical at the treatment plant, orthophosphate, that coats lead pipes and prevents lead leaching into the water," Grosselle said.

Brandon's water treatment system faced challenges because it did not add the leach-preventing chemical, so it offered residents help changing their lead pipes and a subsidy to buy filter systems.

Though Grosselle and the city have previously gathered data showing the lead in those 23,000 homes is at acceptable levels, the city did provide tips for residents to avoid lead exposure.

Lead reduction tips 

  • Flush your plumbing system before consuming any water that has been standing in your pipes for more than six hours, as standing water can absorb metals from the pipes.
    • You can flush your system by running your tap for up to 10 minutes, flushing the toilet, taking a shower or starting a load of laundry.
  • After flushing, fill containers with water and keep them in the fridge for drinking.
  • Use cold water for cooking and drinking, as hot tap water can absorb trace metals from water pipes.
  • Consider using home water treatment devices that have the proper certification to reduce or remove lead, such as:
    • Water filters with the Health Canada-recommended certification label ANSI/NSF Standard No. 53 for reduction of lead.
    • Distillation units.
    • Reverse osmosis units.
  • Consider replacing the lead pipe that runs from your home up to the shut-off valve (usually at your property line); you are responsible for this part of the water pipe.

As a new homeowner, Taylor says replacing his pipes is probably out of reach financially, in the short term.

The Wolseley resident says he would definitely consider putting flushed water in the fridge and using a filtered container.

But Taylor was concerned about the waste in running the tap for up to 10 minutes, as recommended by the city.

"The environmentally friendly side of me sort of thinks running the water for five to 10 minutes seems quite a lot. Seems like a bit of a waste of water, so I would prefer not to do that if I could," he said.

Residents can still contact 311 to be added to a waitlist for water testing.

It took just a single day for the City of Winnipeg to reach its limit of volunteers to have testing done on the quality of the water coming from the taps in their homes. 2:27

With files from Jacques Marcoux


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