Sodium hydroxide in drinking water requires more consultation, resident says

A woman who lives in the proposed test area for adding sodium hydroxide to drinking water in Thunder Bay, Ont., says she is against the move.

Thunder Bay resident wants drinking water protected

About 7,500 to 8,000 homes in Thunday Bay are thought to still have older lead pipes connecting them to the city's water mains. That can result in higher concentrations of lead than allowed in tap water.

A woman who lives in the proposed test area for adding sodium hydroxide to drinking water in Thunder Bay, Ont., says she is against the move.

The city said it will add the chemical in low quantities to the water supply for 600 homes to reduce lead levels in drinking water. The chemical — which in much higher concentrations is corrosive and used to make cleansers and process metals — will be injected right at the pumping station. In small amounts, it is accepted by the World Health Organization for drinking water treatment.

But Rhonda Hanah said she feels the city did not have enough public consultation, before deciding to go ahead with the test.

"There are other alternatives ... I think that it's something that we should talk about," she said.

"There certainly weren't any incentives when we replaced our pipes," Hanah added. "Maybe there could be incentives for water filtration systems." 

Homeowners north of Arundel Street and west of Hodder Avenue have been told to expect to have sodium hydroxide added to their water later this year.

The chemical will raise the pH levels in the water, making it too basic, Hanah said, adding the province should not force the city to do this test, as Thunder Bay already has good water.

"There hasn't been transparency in relation to this," she said. "We have an excellent water filtration system. Considering we're living in a time where water is becoming a really serious resource, worldwide, it's really incumbent on us to protect it."

Lead pipes still in thousands of homes

About 7,500 to 8,000 homes in Thunder Bay are thought to still have older lead pipes connecting them to the city's water mains. When water sits in those so-called service pipes for a while, it can accumulate lead, eliciting readings above the Ontario Environment Ministry guideline of 0.01 milligrams per litre.  

A city official  told CBC News part of the problem is that most of those service pipes are on are on private property, and the city can't force homeowners to upgrade their connections to newer copper piping. The Ministry of the Environment said the city must put something in place that will limit the amount of lead that leaches into the water.

Thunder Bay has previously used awareness campaigns to urge homeowners to get rid of lead water pipes, which are generally found in homes built before 1952.

To make the change from lead to copper lines and pipes on their properties, homeowners must pay the construction and plumbing costs, which vary widely depending on the house but can rise to $2,000 for a service line and $1,500 for internal plumbing.

A petition against adding the chemical to the water has been created, and can be found here. There is also a hard copy version of the petition at Kelly's Nutrition on Red River Road.

The city will host a public open house on the matter on Thursday Sept. 17, beginning at 6 p.m., at the Current River Recreation Centre.

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