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.
“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.