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Low levels of lead exposure have 'subtle' effects: Doctor

People who have been drinking water with lead concentration above the national guideline for a prolonged period of time may have a slightly reduced IQ, according to an official with Manitoba Health.

Dr. Susan Roberecki, medical lead for environmental health, said there are “slight health effects” that could occur when exposed to low levels of lead over time.

A QUICK PRIMER ON PIPESWater main pipes in Brandon are made out of polyvinyl chloride (PVC).At one point they were made out of cast iron, however as Patrick Pulak, the city's deputy director of engineering explains, the city began installing PVC pipes in the 1980s.Pulak said the water mains were never made out of lead."There may be some water mains in that time that used lead gaskets," he said. "There's little or no contact with the water with the gasket component."The only lead concern comes from the lead service connection from the water main to the property line to the home.Homes built before 1950 and are most likely to have a lead service connection, as lead pipes were acceptable construction standards at that time."Even if it was built prior to 1950, there is still no guarantee that you have a lead water service," Pulak said.» Brandon Sun

“These are subtle and most people would not notice anything,” she said. “Unless there was some other source of lead that they were getting exposed to.”

Low levels of exposure may have subtle effects on the intellectual development of infants and children. Roberecki said there could be minimal impacts on blood pressure and kidney function as well.

On Thursday, the City of Brandon released preliminary results of a provincial study showing high lead levels have been found in the tap water of some older Brandon homes. Those living in homes built before 1950 are encouraged to get their water tested. It’s estimated that 3,600 homes may be affected, as they are most likely to have a lead service connection.

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.

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.

There were no lead concerns in Steinbach, as the town does not have any lead service connections. In Portage and Winnipeg, the lead concentration levels were below the guidelines when the water was flushed for a few minutes.

“Brandon’s was a little higher, so they wanted to get the information out to the citizens,” she said.

Everyone is exposed to low levels of lead through food, drinking water, air, dust and soil.

“The good news is that the overall exposure over time, from many sources, has been declining, even if they have been drinking water that has been above the guideline,” Roberecki said. “People, years ago, would have been exposed to much more lead because there used to be lead in paint ... and gasoline.”

With low-level exposure, lead will build up in the body.

“It deposits in the bone,” Roberecki said. “Gradually, if you stop being exposed to lead, the lead comes out of your body.”

If residents are worried about elevated levels of lead in their water, it is recommended that they flush water before use for a few minutes. Homeowners could also purchase a lead reduction certified tap filter.

The permanent solution is to replace the lead water service.

Residents shouldn’t worry about exposure to lead when bathing or showering.

“Most of the lead exposure you’ll get by swallowing it or eating it,” Roberecki said. “Very little goes through the skin.”

As for pets, Roberecki suggests flushing the water before feeding animals as well.

» jaustin@brandonsun.com

Republished from the Brandon Sun print edition February 9, 2013

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People who have been drinking water with lead concentration above the national guideline for a prolonged period of time may have a slightly reduced IQ, according to an official with Manitoba Health.

Dr. Susan Roberecki, medical lead for environmental health, said there are “slight health effects” that could occur when exposed to low levels of lead over time.

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People who have been drinking water with lead concentration above the national guideline for a prolonged period of time may have a slightly reduced IQ, according to an official with Manitoba Health.

Dr. Susan Roberecki, medical lead for environmental health, said there are “slight health effects” that could occur when exposed to low levels of lead over time.

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