Lead contamination in drinking water

Simple ways to prevent contamination – Health Canada limits the lead content in drinking water to 10 parts per billion in a sample of running water. This means that the municipal water supply contains virtually no lead. So how does lead contamination occur and how can we protect ourselves?

Harmful effects on health despite many benefits

Malleable, ductile, affordable and easy to weld, lead has been used in plumbing since ancient times. However, it is very harmful to human health. Some historians even argue that lead contamination could be partly responsible for the fall of the Roman Empire!

A minimal amount of lead in the blood affects human health to varying degrees. Between 10 and 15 micrograms of lead per deciliter of blood can have harmful effects on the neuro-behavioural and cognitive systems in children and fetuses, while a level of more than 40 micrograms can interfere with the production of red blood cells. Cases of lead poisoning, at very low doses, are difficult to identify and that is why very few are recorded in Canada.

Lead contamination

Contamination occurs within buildings, where lead can be found in certain connections, plumbing fixtures and in welds. It mainly occurs when the water remains stagnant for more than 6 hours in pipes where there is the presence of lead, which then dissolves in the water. Hotter is the water, higher is its dissolving power.

Older homes, especially those built before 1955, are more at risk because the water connections were, at the time, made of lead.

Since then, the standards and requirements governing the use of lead in plumbing have continued to evolve. Recently, in 2014, the concentration of lead in taps and plumbing fixtures used for the distribution of water intended for human consumption was reduced to 0.25%.

Safety measures

Domestic equipment exists to decontaminate the water, including carbon filters installed directly on the tap, reverse osmosis purification systems and distillation units. Some of these equipment are expensive and require regular maintenance.

It is therefore recommended to perform these very simple actions which can make a difference:

  • Let the water run for a few minutes after a 6-hour period of non-use,
  • Cook in cold water,
  • Regularly clean the faucet aerator.
How to identify a lead connection

Find the shut-off valve for the main water inlet and observe the pipe. The lead is grey, it does not resonate if you hit it and leaves metallic marks when you scratch it. It does not attract a magnet.

Do not hesitate to call a specialist to identify potentially risky plumbing lines.

Source: Health Canada

The use of lead-free products in plumbing

Lead-free products: New requirements –

In Quebec, since May 1, 2014, it is prohibited to install faucets and other plumbing accessories containing more than 0.25% in lead concentration. These new requirements are detailed in Chapter III, Plumbing, of the Quebec Construction Code and based on the 2012 edition of CSA B125.1 and B125.3. These measures seek to reduce the presence of lead in drinking water, which is harmful to health.

List of products affected and not affected by changes

For now, only products used for drinking water intended for human consumption are subject to these new requirements:

  • Water supply fittings for drinkers
  • Water taps for kitchen sinks
  • Washbasins and tubs
  • Shut-off valves
  • Automatic compensating faucets (excluding showers)
  • Supply shut-off valves
  • Integrated temperature actuated mixing valves

Products dedicated to the distribution of drinking water not intended for human consumption are not affected:

  • Automatic compensation taps wall mounted shower systems
  • Supply fittings for baths and showers
  • Supply fittings for bidets
  • Supply fittings for washers
  • Shut-off valves for humidifiers
  • Supply fittings for mop sinks
  • Lawn and sediment drain valves
  • Self-closing, rolling feed connections
  • Shower heads
  • Hand showers
  • Body Sprays
  • Anti-siphon supply valves
  • Solenoid and flush valves
  • Thermal expansion relief valves
  • Siphon initiators
  • All other products not covered by CSA B125.1 /.3
Lead-free backflow prevention device:  mandatory from 2017

Pressure reducers and backflow preventer devices for area or establishment protection will be added to the list of targeted equipment from 2017.

This is why we now recommend installing backflow prevention devices that have less than .25% in lead content on all drinking water plumbing systems.

Backflo Shop has access to several brands and models of lead-free backflow prevention devices.

Ask our experts to help you select the appropriate device!