As Brandon homeowners are trying to make sense of early test results that show up to five times the allowable level of lead in some tap water, city and provincial officials are trying to prevent a panic.
So let’s be clear: no one is in immediate danger. Lead isn’t a poison that will cause you to suddenly drop dead. The trouble with lead lies in long-term, low-level exposure, exactly what Brandon homeowners are faced with.
Lead levels are lower than they used to be. As recently as the mid-1990s, lead levels in Winnipeg water tested as high as 450 micrograms per litre. That’s seven times higher than the highest level found so far in Brandon.
But the levels here are still too high.
Unfortunately, they’re also highly variable. Some of the houses tested in Brandon have found lead levels well under the allowable limit. Others are 1050 per cent too high. And one was 500 per cent too high.
In some cases, flushing the water out of the pipes for a few minutes helped a lot. In other cases, cleaning the tap’s aerator brought the levels down.
The point is that each individual homeowners is going to need to test their own water before they know what is gushing out of their pipes.
Only 20 homes have so far been tested out of the 3,600 that may be affected. And only 11 test results are back.
Starting next week, the city will be handing out test bottles to worried homeowners. Just stop by the engineering department on the second floor of city hall, go home to fill up the bottle and drop it off again.
The tests normally cost $45, but for homes in the danger zone, the city will cover some of the cost and the homeowner will only have to fork out $20.
While $20 isn’t egregious, it still borders on insulting that the city is asking its residents to pay for their own safe water tests.
Even more so when we followed a link that the city tweeted out yesterday morning. It led us (pardon the pun) to a provincial “info sheet” about trace lead levels in water. There wasn’t much new information there, but there was a link at the bottom to a “study fact sheet.”
And what we found there was very interesting indeed. We quote:
“If you live in Winnipeg, the city has a program in place to test the lead samples free of charge and give you the results.”
If Winnipeg is concerned enough to test water samples for its residents for free, we suggest that Brandon — now with a known lead problem — should step up and do the same.
At 3,600 affected homes, and $45 per test, it would cost $162,000 to test them all. That’s a pittance compared to the estimated $27 million it will cost to actually fix this problem and it’s will go a long way towards helping Brandon residents know just how tainted their water really is.