Why the Concern About Lead?
Lead is a soft, bluish-grey heavy metal that has many industrial uses and can be found naturally in the environment. Although blood levels have fallen significantly in recent decades due to the removal of lead from gasoline and paint, lead remains an important health concern for all Canadians.
What Are the Health Effects of Lead Exposure?
Lead exposure can have many health effects. Even low levels of lead exposure have been associated with effects on intellectual development and behaviour of children. It is important to try to reduce lead exposure as much as possible. Please see the Manitoba Health Lead Fact Sheet for more information.
What Are Sources of Lead Exposure?
Everyone is exposed to trace amounts of lead through air, soil, household dust, food, drinking water and various consumer products. The amount of lead that people are exposed to has decreased over time due to the elimination of lead from gasoline, paint, and other products. Tap water is not generally the most significant source of exposure to lead. However, drinking water can contribute to a person’s overall lead exposure.
How Does Lead Get into Drinking Water?
Lead is not usually found in well water or water from a municipally-treated water facility. However, lead can enter drinking water from various parts of a building’s plumbing system, including lead solder, brass fixtures, water fountains, and lead piping.
The amount of lead in drinking water depends on how corrosive the water is, the materials used in constructing the plumbing system, and how long the water is in contact with lead in the pipes or fixtures. The longer water stands in the plumbing system, the more lead the water can dissolve from lead-based plumbing fixtures and components.
In 1990, the United States Environmental Protection Agency banned the use of water fountains that contained excessive levels of lead. Some of these fountains made their way onto the Canadian market.
Source: Manitoba Health
Immediate Actions for Reducing Elevated Lead Levels
Where lead levels are above the national guideline, HSD will take necessary action for reducing lead as set out by the Province of Manitoba. This may include:
- Closing plumbing fixtures that exceed the limit (ex: removing handles, posting signs, or bagging the fixture).
- Posting “Do Not Drink” signs on taps that cannot be easily closed.
- Providing an alternate safe drinking water source (ex: bottled water coolers), particularly if the issue is widespread throughout a building.
Maintenance Solutions for Reducing Elevated Lead Levels
Where lead levels are above the national guideline, maintenance solutions to reduce lead might include:
- Replacement of lead pipes, if present.
- Replacing of fixtures with new “lead-free” products.
- Adding point-of-use filtration devices that are NSF certified.
- Assessment of grounding wires attached to water pipes. An electrical current may accelerate the corrosion of lead in piping materials.
- Reconfiguration of plumbing to bypass sources of lead contamination, targeting the small pipe branches that may have more elbows, joints and therefore more solder.
- Addition of automatic flushing valves to reduce water stagnation.
Operational Solutions for Reducing Lead Levels
Where lead levels are below the national guideline, but still detectable, operational solutions may include:
- Implementation of daily or weekly flushing programs (as needed). Running all indoor taps and water fountains until the water is clear and cold.
- Advising students and employees to run the water until cold before drinking.
- Regular cleaning of tap aerators.
- Use of only cold clear water for food and beverage preparation.
Source: Manitoba Health
Hanover School Division has begun sampling for lead in drinking water at each of our schools, prioritizing fountains and faucets used by students and staff. Regular ongoing testing for lead in drinking water will continue as part of our many routine health and safety programs.