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Lead in the water in Montreal: a few points to help you

Last modified: 2020-02-17 | Approximate reading time 3 mins

Amanda Harvey

In Montreal alone, it’s estimated that approximately 300,000 residents are affected by a high level of lead in their water, in particular, due to the pipe connecting their home to the city’s water system. In 2007, the City of Montreal, therefore, committed to changing all of its lead water pipes in the public sector, totalling around 48,000 by 2030, recently investing about $557 million to accelerate the project. 

 

However, in October 2019, mayor Valerie Plante announced to more than 24,000 owners that they had to undertake this work at their own expense, noting that since 2007 only 10% of the people concerned by this issue had taken the initiative to change the lead plumbing in their homes. A screening service is offered and will be completed by 2022.

For individuals refusing to do the work themselves, the City will offer the possibility of completing the work on their private section during the replacement of the public section. Following a few months' notice, those concerned will be billed the total amount and will be able to pay over 15 years, with interest. 

This news has generated a lot of reactions from homeowners, mainly linked to anxiety that they no longer know where to turn or where to start. It can be alarming to read different media reporting on the subject but to be left unprepared without solutions. Here is a summary of the situation and some points that may help you.

Lead in the water in Montreal: a few things to know

A brief history of the use of lead plumbing

In Montreal until the early 1970s, lead was a popular plumbing material, hence the name. Some indicators that you may live in a lead service entry are as follows (sourced from the City of Montreal website):

“You have to find the water inlet valve in your building and observe the pipe. If it is lead:

  1. It will be gray;
  2. It will not produce any resonating sound when struck;
  3. It will leave metallic marks if scratched;
  4. It will not attract a magnet.

Note: if you are unable to carry out this verification, contact your landlord or plumber. On the other hand, another portion of your service entrance may be made of lead, both on the private and public sides. Only a water analysis can confirm this.” 

It is said that the buildings likely to be affected are those of 8 dwellings or less built before the 1970s and “post-war” houses, such as houses built between 1940 and 1950 (often seen in neighbourhoods such as Mercier-Hochelaga-Maisonneuve).

Health, side effects, and temporary solutions

Although some neighbourhoods do not have alarming rates, long-term exposure to lead can still cause health damage. Santé Montreal explains it as follows:

Lead is considered to be a no-threshold contaminant, meaning that there is no level of exposure without possible health effects. 

“Studies have shown that low levels of lead exposure are associated with certain effects:

  • Neurodevelopmental development in children (effects on intelligent quotient, learning ability, and behaviour.)
  • Cardiovascular in adults (increased blood pressure).

These effects would be of low intensity and associated with long-term exposure.”

For the time being, if you’re living in one of the areas that are highly affected and you are still waiting for screening or the start of work, the filter will be able available through the City for the sum of $50. If you live in low-income housing, “filtration systems will be distributed to families with pregnant women and/or children under the age of six. People in this situation are invited to call 311 to find out how to get a filtration device,” according to Radio-Canada.

lit hopital_hospital bed

Who should you see to change your lead entry?

Contrary to popular belief, a plumber may not be able to carry out this project, because they also need to be trained as an excavator. Since your water inlet is underground, the contractor you choose must, therefore, hold an RBQ license specific to this work. 

When looking for a contractor, it’s important to make sure that the plumbing company you choose also specializes in excavation services. Here’s an article that could help you better understand this aspect and what excavation work is:

Plombier qui scie un tuyau_plumber that is sawing a pipe

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