The City of Red Deer says its major watermains are lead free — but that doesn’t mean all city households have safe drinking water.
Any homes built before 1960 could have lead pipes that connect the watermain to the taps. And houses constructed before 1985 could have lead soldering on pipes, said city water supervisor Alex Monkman.
While Red Deer’s drinking water passes water quality tests when it leaves the treatment centre, it could be picking up contamination as it flows through old lead pipes in people’s houses, added Monkman.
Concerns over lead content in drinking water were stirred this week when a year-long study found tap water in about a third of the tests exceeded Canadian guidelines of five parts per billion.
Unsafe levels were found at some schools and day cares, as well as dozens of homes in 11 cities, in a study compiled by more than 120 journalists from nine universites and 10 media groups, including the Institute for Investigative Journalism at Concordia University in Montreal.
While anybody can get lead poisoning, which causes anemia, kidney and brain damage, pregnant women and children younger than six are particularly suceptible to a build up of lead in their bodies.
Lead is a neurotoxin that can severely affect mental and physical development, and even be fatal at very high levels.
Monkman’s department received about 20 calls this week from local residents who heard about the study and were concerned about potentially high lead content in their tap water.
Residents are being told the city can either send out a staff member to collect a sample from their homes, or they can collect their own samples, following instructions from the city.
Monkman encourages calling 403-342-8750 for more information, or check out what’s available online at reddeer.ca.
Homeowners are responsible for replacing lead pipes in their homes at a cost between $5,000 and $10,000 — an unaffordable amount for some people. But Monkman believes it’s always good to know what you are dealing with, and he added there are some less expensive options to consider.
According to the city’s website, a caustic soda treatment can balance the pH of drinking water and reduce its corrosivity. This process provides a protective coating on pipes, minimizing lead leaching.
And certain water filters can also improve water quality, said Monkman.
The city has gradually been replacing watermain pipes in older neighbourhoods, with the latest project in Riverside Meadows.
Monkman said the main reason for this is water leaks, and not lead content, since most of these pipes were made of cast iron that’s corroded over the years.
However, Riverside Meadows residents who want to replace the aging pipes that run from the watermains to their house will get a $500 deal, since most of the excavation work is being done anyway, he added.
Of the 250 households who responded to the city’s offer, six have lead services, he added.