The results of an investigation recently released has Canadians questioning the safety of their tap water.
The study, completed by more than 120 journalists from nine universities and 10 media organizations, including the The Associated Press and the Institute for Investigative Journalism at Concordia University in Montreal, collected test results that properly measure exposure to lead.
Out of 12,000 tests since 2014, one third, or 33 per cent of the 11 cities they tested, exceeded the national safety guideline of five parts per billion (ppb), and 18 per cent exceeded the U.S. limit of 155 ppb.
At a government hearing, an expert estimated 500,000 lead service lines are still delivering water to people in the country.
The study further explained that there are currently no national mandates to test drinking water for lead. And even if agencies do take a sample, residents are rarely informed of contamination.
Some residents from major cities around the country, including Edmonton, a town of almost one million, were surprised to find that their water lead levels tested at 28 ppb.
The small B.C. town of Price Rupert, an area known for its vibrant outdoor attractions, is among more than a dozen coastal communities with aging pipes. Further investigation revealed that the province of B.C. does not require municipalities to test tap water for lead.
In response, Canadian officials said they were aware that lead pipes can contaminate drinking water and that they were working to replace aging infrastructure. Some mayors in major cities across the country have already vowed to inspect hundreds of thousands of their homes.
Locally, municipalities in the Elk Valley are reassuring residents that drinking water is safe from exposure to lead.
The City of Fernie, District of Sparwood and District of Elkford have confirmed that their towns contain little to no lead piping or fittings.
A spokeswoman for the City of Fernie explained that on top of weekly bacteriological testing, the City currently performs one heavy metal test per year. In comparison to surrounding towns, this is less than the City of Kimberley’s quarterly tests.
The spokeswoman further explained that recent discussions with Interior Health, the authority which directs the City on what they should be sampling for, indicated they may move to two heavy metal tests per year. This updated sampling program would also include testing for lead.
The City of Fernie receives its water from two sources; the primary being Fairy Creek and the backup source being the James White Well.
Sparwood mayor David Wilks said that with the exception of a few older homes, there are no metal pipes used for drinking water in the District. The mayor estimated that water systems were starting to be installed in the late-60s or early 70s, followed by the Sparwood Heights development which first started in 1982.
“Most of our system is primarily PVC, because we’re a newer community,” he said. “There’s the odd lead pipe probably in some of the older houses in Sparwood, within the houses.”
Wilks explained that the last time they tested their entire water system, in 2015, they had no issues with lead whatsoever. He further explained that the District performs weekly water tests, looking mainly at selenium and nitrate levels.
“Staff are going to do another updated test that includes everything in our water, but we’re pretty confident in saying that we don’t have any issues with lead whatsoever,” said Wilks.
Several times a week, the District takes samples of their water and ships it off to a third-party company which tests for selenium, nitrates, etc.
Wil said with the exception of the high readings in Well #3, which resulted in the District installing a new well, they have not had any major problems with drinking water.
The Free Press previously reported that Well #4 has replaced Well #3, which has become contaminated and cannot be used for drinking water in the time of year when selenium levels exceed safe limits. The well cost $5.355M to complete, with $325k of this coming from the District, and the rest from Teck. The District said in a town hall meeting on October 10 they hope the Well #3 issue is a one-off problem.
According to a spokesman with the District of Elkford, they currently sample their drinking water bi-monthly from eight locations throughout town. They currently source their water from four deep wells.
They further explained that there are no lead pipes in their drinking water distribution systems, and that they perform full metal tests once a year from their wells.