Sampling for lead in water on tap for next year
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.