This map, provided by the City of Brandon, shows areas where pre-1950 water connections exist, which may contaminate a home's drinking water with lead.
Patrick Pulak, Brandon's deputy director of engineering, speaks during a press conference at city hall Thursday afternoon. (COLIN CORNEAU / BRANDON SUN)
High lead levels have been found in the tap water of some older Brandon homes.
Preliminary results of a provincial study show lead contamination in excess of the current national drinking water guidelines. In one case, the lead concentration was nearly five times the Canadian standard.
LONG-TERM EXPOSUREEveryone is exposed to low levels of lead through food, drinking water, air, dust and soil. However, according to Health Canada, long-term exposure to even small amounts of lead may be harmful especially to infants, young children and pregnant women.Low levels of exposure may have subtle effects on the intellectual development of infants and children. Babies and toddlers are particularly vulnerable to the harmful effects of lead because they are undergoing a period of rapid development. Their growing bodies absorb lead more easily and excrete lead less efficiently than adults.Once in the body, lead circulates in the blood and either builds up in bone or is eliminated from the body, mostly in urine. Lead can stay in the body for more than 30 years following exposure.Damage to the nervous system may cause impaired mental function. Other symptoms are appetite loss, abdominal pain, constipation, fatigue, sleeplessness, irritability and headache. Continued excessive exposure, as in an industrial setting, can affect the kidneys.Health effects associated with exposure to high levels of lead include vomiting, diarrhea, convulsions, coma or even death. However, such severe cases of lead poisoning are rare in Canada.» Health Canada
City officials called a press conference Thursday, where they announced that the water in approximately 3,600 homes may be affected.
These are homes built before 1950 and are most likely to have a lead service connection.
"We’re talking about the services that run from the water main on the street, to a person’s house, connected to your water meter," said Patrick Pulak, the city’s deputy director of engineering.
"It’s an issue that’s been experienced by many cities across Canada, as lead pipes or lead services were acceptable construction standards prior to the 1950s."
The provincial pilot project study was undertaken in 2012. It looked at the lead levels in tap water in select homes and buildings in Brandon, Winnipeg, Portage la Prairie and Steinbach.
So far, 11 out of 20 homes have been tested in Brandon. The provincial standard for lead concentration in drinking water is 10 micrograms per litre. The homes tested ranged from 0.5 to 49.5 micrograms per litre.
Results of the study will soon be finalized and homeowners involved are expected to receive their results over the next few days.
City manager Scott Hildebrand said after receiving the preliminary results, they believed being "proactive" was the best way to go.
"We felt … providing our residents with proper information and resources to help was the right thing to do," Hildebrand said.
Pulak stressed that the lead concerns do not relate to the city’s water treatment facility or the distribution system.
"Our distribution system … still meets the federal guidelines for lead concentrations of drinking water," Pulak said.
The city is partnering with ALS Environmental Labs of Winnipeg to provide tap water testing services for homeowners concerned about lead levels.
As of next week, homeowners can pick up a self-testing kit from the city’s engineering department on the second floor of city hall.
The kit and testing will cost $45. However, if the individual lives in the identified areas where pre-1950 lead connections may exist, the cost will be $20.
"The city will pick up the other $25 cost, we will transport the samples to Winnipeg, have the results come back to us and we will then get it to the residents," Pulak said.
For people who live outside of the identified area, and still would like to test their water, the cost will be the full $45.
In the meantime, if residents are worried about elevated levels of lead in their water, Pulak recommends flushing water for a few minutes.
"To get any of the water that may have been sitting in the service line to the house," he said.
Another recommendation is for homeowners to purchase a tap filter that has a lead reduction certified filter.
The permanent solution is to replace the lead water service. The city estimates that to assume all the costs from replacing the water service from the water main to the property line for 3,600 homes, the cost would be $27 million. If 80 homes were completed per year, it would take roughly 45 years to finish.
For a faster turnaround, the city offers a program in which it provides financial assistance to property owners. The city will pay for 50 per cent of the cost to replace the lead water service connection from the water main to the property line. Replacing the lead service from the property line into the home will be the homeowner’s cost.
"If the homeowner … were to replace their water service from the property line to their home, it would be … in the range of $6,000 to $8,000," Pulak said.
Republished from the Brandon Sun print edition February 8, 2013