Lead lev­els in Toronto’s wa­ter sup­ply have dropped, but au­thor­i­ties warn against cel­e­brat­ing just yet,

Toronto Star - - GTA - DAVID HAINS METRO

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 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.

Coun­cil­lor 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 23-12.

With­out in­cen­tives in place, Davis isn’t op­ti­mistic.

“It’s hard to mo­ti­vate res­i­dents to spend $3,000 to re­place their pipes,” she said.

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 Rd.

North York Civic Cen­tre, 2nd floor, 5100 Yonge St., north of Shep­pard Ave.

1530 Markham Rd., 5th floor, at Mil­ner Ave., north of Hwy. 401.

2340 Dun­das St. W., main floor. Near Dun­das West sub­way sta­tion.

44 Vic­to­ria St., 18th Floor. Just south of Ade­laide St., north of King St.

175 Me­mo­rial Park Ave. Just west of Coxwell Ave., south of Cos­burn Ave.


City staff es­ti­mate that 31,000 of Toronto’s 437,000 sin­gle-fam­ily dwellings have lead pipes, which are gen­er­ally lo­cated in homes built be­fore 1950.

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