By COLLIN GALLANT on November 6, 2019.
Utility officials in Medicine Hat say there is no evidence of lead contamination in the water they supply locally, but home owners should be aware of potential problems on pipes inside older homes.
This week, a study released by major media outlets and university researchers states a widespread problem across the country with tap water containing lead, which has leached out of aging pipes.
In Medicine Hat, water treatment plant manager John Michalopolis says local water is tested vigorously as it leaves the plant and passes new stricter guidelines brought in this summer.
However, the department has “actively tracked” the presence of lead-bearing pipes since the mid-1970s, inspecting household connections (called ‘services’) when street mains are replaced, and informing the homeowner if the line is lead.
Despite a strong recommendation that the privately-owned pipe be replaced, about 50 homeowners have not done upgrades and the city has no power to compel them.
“We’re aware of a small number of services out of 23,000 (residences) that have pipes of that nature,” said Michalopolis. “Anything going on inside the house in the homeowners responsibility. Right away, we tell the homeowner … but there are approximately 50 that we have in our records that we suspect are still lead.”
Each year the utility aims to replace about one per cent of its 400-kilometre-long network of water mains, tackling the oldest or damaged mains first as sewers and roadways are also due for upgrades.
Construction along First Street, one of the city’s oldest roads, last year turned up no lead connection points.
“It’s cropped up in other jurisdictions, and we’ve been proactive about it, but it’s never been a big concern here,” said Michalopolis, adding that Medicine Hat’s harder water tends to coat pipes with scale, which inhibits corrosion and the release of metal.
Lead poisoning can cause lower cognitive ability, hamper the development of children and can lead to miscarriage.
It was banned in pipes and fittings for new construction and renovations in Canada in the mid-1970s, but communities built after the 1940s, when copper was in short supply, are unlikely to have lead present.
Craig Martineau, the owner of Marvelous Plumbing in Medicine Hat, said that it is rare that workers today find actual lead fittings or pipes, but it does happen.
“In very old houses you can still find a bit, but it gets torn out right away,” said Martineau, stating also that underground service connections older than 30 years are not common as they break over time and are replaced.
“It’s mostly copper pipe in Medicine Hat, some galvanized, and all new (pipes) are pex (plastic).”
Martineau felt that tradepersons in the city and region should be very well acquainted with water quality testing considering the number of rural wells. Most plumbers should be able to send water off for testing and perform a basic inspection for concerned homeowners.
Michalopolis, agreed, stating a general inspection is a easy way to allay homeowners concerns.
A major research project announced this month states the drinking water in a number cities across the country are failing to provide safe drinking water to residents.
The research, conducted by major media outlets and the Institute for Investigative Journalism based at Concordia University in Montreal, found that in 11 major cities, one third of 12,000 samples taken since 2014 contained elevated levels of lead.
A further study of 33 cities, including water from the actual household taps, came back at about the same rate for higher-than-allowed levels of the toxic heavy metal.
Medicine Hat was not part of the study, but levels in Edmonton, Calgary, Moose Jaw and Regina all returned concerning results.
The City of Medicine Hat’s environmental utilities department tests water exiting the treatment plant and at random locations int he distribution system four times each year.
This summer, Health Canada introduced stricter guidelines regarding lead levels, decreasing the maximum allowable content to five parts per million, though Michalopolis states city results rate ten to 100 times lower than the new guideline.
“At that point you’re talking about a fractions of a parts per trillion,” he said. “Our source water doesn’t have lead and our distribution system is not a concern.”
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