New home with lead in water will take up to 3 months to repair, city says

Matthew Elfassy found out the new home he bought had dangerous levels of lead in the water, but it'll likely be three months before city contractors can replace the old pipes.

Delay is not only inconvenient, but pricey, homeowner Matthew Elfassy says

Homeowner Matthew Elfassy says he can't believe it'll take three months before lead can be removed from his home's water. (Tina MacKenzie/CBC)

Matthew Elfassy found out the new home he bought had dangerous levels of lead in the water, but it'll likely be three months before city contractors can replace the old pipes.

"It's costing me a lot to have this house, and I'm living in the other house paying the other mortgage," Elfassy told CBC Toronto. "So there [are] two mortgages, two property taxes. It's exceptionally expensive."

Elfassy found out the water coming out of the taps in his new home was unsafe almost by accident.
The water doesn't look any different, but it contains more than six times the recommended level of lead. (Tina MacKenzie/CBC)

He decided to have the water tested at his North York home near Bathurst Street and Highway 401 when he noticed the water pressure was low.

A test revealed lead levels at 65.60 parts per billion, more than six times Ontario's recommended limit of 10 parts per billion.

Lead pipes were used in homes built before the mid-1950s. In some cases, lead has leaked into the water supply.

The City of Toronto's numbers from 2016 show 31,256 homes still have lead water connections.  

Move-in date on hold

According to Health Canada, health effects of lead in the human body include reduced cognition and increased blood pressure and kidney dysfunction. The biggest impacts have been seen in children, with reduced IQ scores.

As a result, Elfassy delayed his move-in date.

"I have a nine-year-old. Lead will impact a child's brain ... which is a big concern for me." 

Elfassy, who works in construction, had already planned to renovate his newly purchased home before moving in. But he says most of those renovations are on hold until the water pipes are replaced.

He doesn't want to put himself or other workers in contact with the unsafe water. 

The new pipe at Matthew Elfassy's home, which still has to be connected to the water line. (Tina MacKenzie/CBC)

Elfassy's unfinished basement is muddy and has holes in the floor, after he paid a contractor to replace the old lead pipes on his side of the property line with shiny new copper ones.

Under the City of Toronto's lead pipe replacement program, the homeowner is responsible for replacing the pipe leading out to the property line. The city replaces the remaining section, connecting the home to the city's water system.

In a statement, Toronto Water said pipe replacement can be faster if a homeowner uses the city contractor to do both sides of the pipe, as it eliminates any need to co-ordinate between contractors.

Elfassy found the city's quote high, at around $2,800, so he found an excavator on his own to do the work for around half the price.   

He's frustrated that the city only uses one contractor, Utility Force Construction Inc., in his area of the city. The company aims to complete orders within 12 weeks. The contractor he used for his side of the property was available in just days.

He says it's all meant a big slow down.

"If everything had been adequate, I'd have been in here in a month from the date of closing," he explained. "But as a result, I've already been waiting three weeks and I've got to wait another three months for water. That's going to cost me in the tens of thousands of dollars for an empty house"

City councillor defends 12-week timeline

City Councillor Stephen Holyday, a member of the Public Works and Infrastructure Committee, defended the amount of time it takes the city, saying that Toronto Water completes all 1,000-1,500 requests per year from property owners for the service.

"When cost is not a factor in things, you can get the work done on any timetable," he said in an interview. "But we have to be reasonable with the cost of getting this work done and be cognizant that all water rate payers are funding this program."

Holyday says the City of Toronto also sends out a water filtration system people can attach to their faucets before the work is completed.

Emails between city staff and Elfassy indicate the filter has been mailed, but he says he still hasn't received it.

About the Author

Lorenda Reddekopp

Reporter, CBC Toronto

Lorenda reports on national and international news, as well as local stories based in Toronto. She grew up in small-town Saskatchewan and spent three years reporting from Guatemala.