Montreal's plan to replace lead pipes, explained

A recent awareness campaign about lead pipes raised more questions than it answered for some Montreal residents. Here's what you need to know about the program to replace the pipes, the safety of your drinking water and whether you're affected.

City information blitz about lead pipes and water quality raises concerns

The actual risk posed by lead pipes in Montreal homes is slight, according to Montreal's public health authority. (Thomas Gerbet / Radio-Canada)

Montreal is in the process of replacing lead water pipes still in use across the city. For some residents, a recent awareness campaign raised more questions than it answered.

Here's what you need to know about the city's program to replace the pipes, the safety of your drinking water and whether you're affected.

What is the city doing? 

A work crew excavates lead pipes in front of a home in Outremont. (Radio-Canada)

In 2006, Montreal established a 20-year plan to replace lead pipes on its territory. Ten years later, pipes have been replaced at 8,000 of the 69,000 dwellings affected.

The city's executive committee recently approved additional financing that will provide funding for 5,000 replacements a year.

This latest plan will prioritize post-war homes built in the 1940s and 1950s, which are considered most at risk of contamination.

The city expects to spend more than $500 million on the work, more than double the original estimate of $240 million. 

City spokesman Philippe Sabourin attributed the ballooning cost to the inaccuracy of the original estimates. 

Why did the city send out awareness pamphlets?

Montreal sent out information pamphlets to residences last month. (CBC)

The city recently issued notices to owners and residents of buildings constructed prior to 1970, informing them that pipes could be made of lead.

The notice advised residents their pipes should be changed to avoid any potential negative health effects, particularly for pregnant women and children under the age of six.

The pamphlets also offered advice on water-quality testing and on how to limit the harm caused by the toxic metal.

What boroughs are most affected?

Villeray–Saint-Michel–Parc-Extension and Rosemont–La Petite-Patrie have the highest number of residences that still have lead pipe connections, among the 69,000 across Montreal. 

Here are the top 10 boroughs affected:

  • Villeray–Saint-Michel–Parc-Extension: 17,775.
  • Rosemont–La Petite-Patrie: 17,614.
  • Ahuntsic-Cartierville: 16,277.
  • Côte-des-Neiges–Notre-Dame-de-Grâce: 16,169.
  • Mercier–Hochelaga-Maisonneuve: 15,966.
  • Le Plateau-Mont-Royal: 14,236.
  • Le Sud-Ouest: 8,485.
  • Ville-Marie: 6,175.
  • Verdun: 4,671.
  • Outremont: 3,690.

What can you do?

Elizabeth Christopher is buying bottled water these days after receiving a letter from the city informing her that there may be lead in her drinking water. (CBC)

In the information pamphlets, the city says that residents will be informed in advance of work being done to change the public portion of their plumbing – the lead piping to the edge of a building's property line.

It recommends residents update the private section, from the property line into their home.

Residents who want to test their water will have to pay out of their own pocket.

There are several labs in the Montreal area that offer the service, at a cost of about $200.

What are the risks involved?

A Montreal health official say no case of lead poisoning from tap water has ever been recorded in the city. (Tim Graham)

Montreal public health official Monique Beausoleil says the risks are limited to pregnant women and children under six years of age. 

Even then, the risks are not significant, she said.

"It's not an emergency. It's not the kind of exposure that puts children at risk," she said.

No case of lead poisoning from tap water has ever been recorded in Montreal, Beausoleil added.

If you have lead pipes and are pregnant or have children under six years old, public health recommends using a water filter that's certified NSF/ANSI 53.