Where is lead most commonly found?

Lead is a metal compound that is present in the natural environment and has been used in many consumer products over the years. Today, lead is found in food,air, water, old paint, soil and dust. Lead can be taken in by the body when ingested or inhaled. Amounts taken in can vary from person to person depending on the form the lead is in and the person's metabolism.

Am I in danger?

There have been very few reported cases of lead poisoning in Canada. Lead exposure has been reduced over the last 40 years with the elimination of lead used in food cans, gasoline, paint, solder and lead service connections. At the concentrations of lead in the environment today, exposure to lead is of a chronic nature and takes a considerable amount of time to manifest itself, particularly in adults.

Who is most at risk?

Because of the smaller mass and higher metabolism of children under six years of age, (including infants and the fetuses of pregnant women), these populations are most at risk. Lead from water may account for up to 10% of the lead blood level in children, recognizing the major sources of lead are still not water related.

How does City of St. Thomas water rate?

The City of St. Thomas' drinking water system supplies excellent water of a quality that is well within the Ontario Ministry of the Environment Standards. Tested annually, the City's distribution system lead levels are very low - generally less than 1 microgram per litre. This is significantly lower than the Provincial Drinking Water Quality Standard of 10 micrograms per litre.

Why would some households test higher for lead in their drinking water?

Some homes in St. Thomas, built before the mid-1950s, may have lead levels higher than Provincial Standards due to lead water pipes (water services) running from the City's water main in the street into the home. As water travels through the lead service pipe it can uptake trace amounts of lead and may exceed the Provincial Standard.

How can I tell if I have a lead service type of connection?

Lead service connections have been used in St. Thomas prior to the mid-1950s. To check for yourself, locate your water meter, typically found in the basement, and look at the pipe coming up through the basement floor into the bottom of the water meter. Lead is grey, does not echo if you gently tap it, scratches easily and leaves metallic marks when you rub the scratched area against paper. "Camaloid" piping also is a pipe variety with lead in its alloy material. This metal pipe gets brittle over time and shears off easily when worked on.

If I have a lead service pipe, what can I do to reduce lead in my drinking water?

Always run your taps before drinking water from them. Allow the water to run until it is noticeably cooler and then continue running the water for a few minutes. Save the water you run during this process for plant watering or washing the dishes.If you flush the toilet or have a shower first thing in the morning, this will reduce the amount of time that you'll need to run the taps.

Always use the cold-water tap for making beverages and food preparation. Clean the faucet aerators (small screens) regularly.

What is the City doing about lead levels that exceed the Provincial Standard?

The City has a two-step action plan to address lead water pipes:

1. Data Collection Phase

  • Accelerate the gathering of information in regard to the location of the homes that have a lead service. This is being done through the publication of a notice in the local papers (Times-Journal and Elgin County Market),insertion of same notice in the water and sewage service bills and the posting of same on the City's website. This Notice regarding "Drinking Water Quality in Homes with Lead Water Services: was posted on the City's website on May 23, 2007.
  • Initiation of an education and awareness program to inform owners of properties with lead water service lines and to provide information about the replacement of these pipes. A Question and Answer form, partially based on information received from the City of London, has been developed. This information will be provided to each homeowner and be available also on the City's website.
  • Offer a free testing service to the owners of these properties to determine if the quality of the water tested at the tap complies with the Drinking Water Quality Standard. Each homeowner who will have their water tested will be provided with written results as well as further background information

2. Remediation Phase

  • Where the MAC of 10ug/lis exceeded, replacement of the water service from the water valve into the home will be considered. The decision by the City of St. Thomas to replace the City portion of the water service within the road right-of-way (main to curb stop) will be made upon verification that this portion of the service has not been replaced in the past with a copper service, however once that determination has been made, the City water operations staff will include this work on the list of work orders and the service replacement work will be scheduled, time, manpower and financial resources permitting.
  • The homeowners will be requested to proceed with the replacement of their portion of the service line(s) downstream from the curb stop into the home, at their cost. This work can be completed by a qualified plumber and a plumbing permit will need to be applied for and obtained by the property owner prior to proceeding with the work.
  • The replacement of the City portion of the water service will be prioritized and scheduled to coincide with the homeowner's initiative to proceed with the replacement of their portion of the service. Section 6.17(b) Renewal of Service - City/Owner, in the City's water by-law 44-2000 makes reference to the replacement of a service where the pipe material is lead

City Water Operating Budget for Service Replacements

In the City's 2007 Water Operating budget, $174,000 is allocated for water service replacement. This operating budget is for normal water service repairs and renewals including valve box replacements. This budget may need to be increased to include the cost of any additional lead service replacement work upon completion of the Data Collection Phase of the above noted action plan.

Can I have my water tested for lead levels?

The City will test water in homes that have lead service connections. This service is paid for by the City. To find out if your home has lead water pipes and to request a water sample test, call the Public Works Service Centre 519-631-0368 and dial ext.'5120' for the Water and Wastewater Supervisor or ext. ‘0' for the Operations Clerk.

Can I have my service connection replaced?

Homeowners should be interested in replacing their lead service pipe. Water services run across both private property and public property. The City of St. Thomas will replace the portion of the water service on public property for single detached residences at City expense, in conjunction with the home owner's initiative to replace their portion of the service.

If you wish to replace your water service, most licensed plumbing contractors listed in the Yellow Pages should be capable of performing such work. Of course, it is always a good practice to solicit quotes from more than one source and to ask questions regarding the different method options that may exist.

Your contractor will have to obtain a Plumbing Permit from the City of St.Thomas. The permit costs $50.00 and can be obtained at City Hall, Environmental Services Engineering Division, Building Inspection, 1st Floor, City Hall Annex (Phone: 519-631-1680 ext. 4160). Once the private portion of the water service has been replaced, contractors notify the City of St. Thomas of the work completion. This will enable the City to perform the follow-up work on the public portion of the service.

Upon completion of the service replacement, the City's Water Operating Staff will perform a follow-up water sample analysis in order to quantify the lead level improvement, if you so desire.

Is this a problem that is particularly affecting St. Thomas?

No. Virtually all municipalities in North America have used lead for service pipes to homes constructed before the mid-1950s. Most water samples are taken from the distribution system, not from private residence water pipes. However, recent testing of water from individual residences where the residences are serviced by lead water lines has confirmed higher than recommended levels of lead.

Where can I get more information about lead?

For more information, please contact the Environmental Services Water Operations staff at 519-631-0368 ext. 5120. Other information is available online at the Health Canada website:

Some Commonly Asked Questions About Lead and Human Health

Guidelines for Canadian Drinking Water Quality

The Elgin-St. Thomas Health Unit website:

The Ontario Ministry of the Environment website document: Technical Support Document for Ontario Drinking Water Standards, Objectives and Guidelines

Council Report on Health Impacts of Lead in the Environment

The possible health impacts of lead in the environment have been a concern for many years. In 1992 the Health Canada Guideline for lead in drinking water was lowered from 50 ug/l (micrograms per litre, or parts per billion) to 10 ug/l for a sample from a tap that has been flushed for 5 minutes. The Guideline takes into consideration the health risk posed by exposure over time and is calculated for the populations at highest risk; children below the age of six and pregnant women. The Guideline also considers that the relative contribution of drinking water to the average daily lead intake is typically below 10%. Other sources for the uptake of lead are food, air, dust and dirt, with food being considered as the largest source of environmental lead exposure. Health Canada identified that "short-term consumption of water containing lead at concentrations..."

Full Report

Public Notice: Drinking Water Quality in Homes with Lead Water Services

During the last few weeks, there has been a concern raised in the local community of Municipal Water Providers in respect to the water quality at homes that have lead water services. The houses that possibly could have lead in their drinking water were generally built prior to the mid 1950's and after 1935.

Property owners and residents at homes, built between 1935 and 1955, are being requested to verify if there are lead water services in the home. Such verification can be conducted by checking the nature of the metal of the water service pipe in the immediate vicinity of the water meter in the basement of the home, as indicated on the diagram. (lead metal pipes are grey and soft, leave metallic marks when a scratched area of pipe is rubbed against paper. "Camaloid" piping also is a pipe variety with lead in its alloy material.)

Full Public Notice