Lowering of lead levels in Toronto water 'promising' but still work to be done: Councillor
Councillor Janet Davis, who closely watches water issues at city hall, warns that the city should not become complacent when it comes to reducing the level of lead in water.
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Early tests show the amount of lead in Toronto's water supply has plummeted, but authorities warn against celebrating too soon.
The city implemented a corrosion control program in December 2014, adding phosphate to the water at its four treatment plants. The initiative, which creates a protective coating on pipes, was mandatory under the province's Safe Drinking Water Act.
According to a 2014 Toronto Star investigation, 13 per cent of tests taken by Toronto residents between 2008 and early 2014 failed Health Canada's standard of less than 10 parts per billion. Between 2015 and August 2017, the failure rate improved to 1.8 per cent, according to a Metro analysis of publicly available data.
Toronto Water's own testing showed improvement, too. From 2008 to 2009, 35 per cent of tested households with known or suspected lead pipes failed the standard. The same test in 2015 and 2016 saw the failure rate drop to 1.3 per cent, according to an annual staff report that will go before council's Public Works committee next week.
Despite the positive signs, Toronto Water warns against rushing to conclusions, adding in the report that the corrosion control program "will take several years to determine the full impact."
Consuming lead has several negative health effects. The body can't process the element and can't distinguish it from calcium. As a result, the toxic substance can stay lodged in organs, potentially stunting development and causing neurological damage. Children are particularly vulnerable.
Lead pipes are generally located in homes built before 1950. City staff estimate that 31,000 of Toronto's 437,000 single-family dwellings have lead pipes.
Coun. Janet Davis, who closely watches water issues at city hall, called the results "promising." But she says the city must not become complacent when it comes to reducing lead levels and replacing pipes.
"The public health literature is very clear: There is no safe level of lead in water," she said. "There really is no serious effort to replace lead pipes."
In 2008 the city hoped to eliminate lead pipes by 2016 — but they are only halfway to that goal and the rate of replacement has slowed in recent years, according to the latest city report.
In November 2015, council considered a program based on one in Hamilton and London that provides five-year loans for residents to replace their lead pipes at no cost to the city. But the mayor and Public Works chair opposed the idea, and after a contentious debate council voted against it 23-to-12.
Without incentives in place, Davis isn't optimistic.
"It's hard to motivate residents to spend $3,000 to replace their pipes," she said.
Where to get your free lead testing kit
Toronto residents can pick up and drop off free lead-testing kits at one of six locations. The city then sends the results back by phone or mail.
The locations are:
Etobicoke Civic Centre, 4th floor, 399 The West Mall, at Burnhamthorpe Road
North York Civic Centre, 2nd floor, 5100 Yonge St., north of Sheppard Avenue
1530 Markham Rd., 5th floor, at Milner Avenue, north of Hwy. 401
2340 Dundas St. W., main floor. Near Dundas West subway station; area known as The Crossways
44 Victoria St., 18th Floor. Just south of Adelaide Street, north of King Street
175 Memorial Park Ave. Just west of Coxwell Avenue, south of Cosburn Avenue