City gets the lead out of new pipe fittings

Traces of lead in Red Deer’s waterworks systems will be gone when new lines are built and existing lines replaced.

Traces of lead in Red Deer’s waterworks systems will be gone when new lines are built and existing lines replaced.

Red Deer recently became the first municipality in Alberta to adopt a lead-free standard for pipe fittings when it builds or replaces water and sewer lines, says Ron Wardner, construction and maintenance superintendent in the Environmental Services Department.

“It’s something I’ve been aware of for awhile, and when it came time to write our new contract specifications we talked about it and decided it would be beneficial and we would put that in,” Wardner said on Tuesday.

Recent studies have shown that lead levels as low as five per cent, considered acceptable at one time, can cause development problems in children, says a press release from Cambridge Brass.

“When we say lead free, actually it means a content of less than one-quarter of one per cent by weight,” said Wardner.

Brass fittings commonly used since the 1950s contain a small amount of lead to make the metal more malleable, he said. Recent studies show that what had once been an acceptable level of lead can cause developmental problems in children.

There are still a few places in Red Deer’s system that are made entirely of lead, said Wardner.

“Whenever we find those, we take those out as well.”

Buildup inside the system coats the pipes and prevents leaching from lead, so there is no immediate danger from any lead that exists in the system, he said.

Staff at the water treatment centre continually test to ensure that lead content remains well below toxic levels, said Wardner.

“It’s not that there’s high lead content in (the system) right now. It’s just that this material is now available and we want to make sure that we’re using material that is as safe as possible.”

Wardner estimates that the new fittings will cost 15 to 20 per cent more than brass, which the city believes is a reasonable price to pay for the increased insurance. The increased cost will be born by water users.

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