Sam­pling for lead in wa­ter on tap for next year

The Observer (Sarnia) - - FRONT PAGE - TYLER KULA

While dig­ging up Richard Street this sum­mer for sewer sep­a­ra­tion work, con­trac­tors found just two homes with lead ser­vice lines, Sarnia’s en­gi­neer­ing di­rec­tor says.

That’s a “very small per­cent­age,” Mike Berkvens noted.

If that ra­tio holds across the 8,787 homes in Sarnia’s south­east – most built some time in the mid1950s or ear­lier – a loom­ing project to elim­i­nate lead in Sarnia’s wa­ter sys­tem could be less oner­ous than feared.

A re­cent $60,000 third-party study es­ti­mated 50 per cent of those homes could have lead ser­vice lines, but the ex­act num­ber isn’t clear.

So pend­ing coun­cil ap­proval, an es­ti­mated $3.9-mil­lion three-year ef­fort is start­ing in 2019 to re­fine the amount af­fected be­fore coun­cil set­tles on ei­ther us­ing cor­ro­sion­in­hibit­ing chem­i­cals in­def­i­nitely to stop lead from seep­ing or ac­tu­ally re­mov­ing and re­plac­ing the lead pipes, or a com­bi­na­tion.

The strat­egy and time­line will de­ter­mine cost. Early es­ti­mates are all lead ser­vice lines could be re­placed by 2033.

“We’ll have a bet­ter han­dle on what’s re­ally re­quired within the next three years,” Berkvens said.

The city has re­moved lead lines on mu­nic­i­pal prop­er­ties as it’s come across them dur­ing sewer sep­a­ra­tion work over the years, Berkvens said, but the pipes on pri­vate prop­erty re­main. Those also haven’t been tracked, he said.

For 2019, a cap­i­tal re­quest — com­ing to coun­cil Dec. 11 in the draft bud­get — is $1.2 mil­lion to hire a con­tract worker and two stu­dents to test the wa­ter in homes, Berkvens said. It’s es­ti­mated they’ll get to about 1,200 in the first year.

The money also cov­ers re­plac­ing ser­vice lines as they’re found; pro­vid­ing fil­ters, es­pe­cially for homes with preg­nant women and young chil­dren; the pro­vi­sion of $2,000 in­ter­est-free loans — re­plac­ing lines is es­ti­mated at $4,000 to $5,000 — to peo­ple who need them; pub­lic out­reach to en­cour­age peo­ple to get test­ing done; and mon­i­tor­ing af­ter the pipe re­place­ment.

Get­ting up­take is ex­pected to be a chal­lenge, Berkvens said, based on the ex­pe­ri­ence of other mu­nic­i­pal­i­ties that have done sim­i­lar test­ing.

“A lot of times peo­ple are hes­i­tant to have it done,” he said.

Ex­po­sure to lead in wa­ter is linked to cog­ni­tive im­pair­ment, higher blood pres­sure and re­nal dys­func­tion in adults, and neu­rode­vel­op­ment and be­havioural ef­fects in chil­dren.

There have been no known cases of lead poi­son­ing from city wa­ter in Sarnia, Berkvens said, not­ing homes the city has found with lead lines have had lev­els right around the Health Canada limit of 10 parts per bil­lion.

“The as­sump­tion is, if it’s lead you would get into the 50s or 60s, but we were find­ing they were quite low,” he said.

That, he said, is likely a re­sult of PH lev­els stay­ing rel­a­tively con­stant in Sarnia, caus­ing lit­tle harm to the pro­tec­tive film in lead pipes. There’s no ev­i­dence of lead in the rest of the dis­tri­bu­tion sys­tem, he said.

“It is just the ser­vice lines that we’re find­ing lead.”

Some have al­ready come for­ward for test­ing af­ter city hall an­nounced in May the prov­ince was man­dat­ing the city to re­move lead from its wa­ter sys­tem faster than it had been, Berkvens said.

The three-year re­fin­ing plan also re­quires more of­fice space for staff, re­frig­er­a­tion for sam­ples, and en­lists a cer­ti­fied test­ing fa­cil­ity near Peter­bor­ough, Berkvens said.

The zone for lead test­ing is bounded by the St. Clair River, High­way 402, Mur­phy Road and Camp­bell Street.

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