Drinking Water Safety Program 2021
Through new federal Guidelines for Canadian Drinking Water Quality, Health Canada in March 2019 established a new maximum acceptable concentration of lead in drinking water (0.005 mg/L). These guidelines were subsequently adopted by the provincial Ministry of Environment and Parks, which meant all Albertan municipalities were required to establish a program to reduce lead levels in drinking water — and to accommodate the new maximum acceptable concentration levels in doing so.
Although the Town’s supply of water remains virtually lead-free when it leaves the treatment plant from which it’s sourced, it may collect trace amounts (or higher) of lead as it’s transported through lead water service lines.
Where does the lead come from?
There are various possible sources; however, lead water service lines connecting a home to the municipal water main — and any variety of older, outdated plumbing components — comprise the most common.
Is lead dangerous in drinking water? Should I be concerned?
If concentration levels are high enough, the presence of lead in drinking water can pose some harm to human health. Those most at risk include pregnant women and youth under six years old. In adults, lead exposure can result in kidney problems and increase blood pressure, and in developing children, it can harm behaviour, intelligence, and other aspects of one’s overall neurodevelopment.
It is important to note that lead cannot enter the body through the skin, nor by breathing in vapours generated while bathing or showering.
Lead sources in drinking water.
Water flowing through pipes, fittings and fixtures that contain lead can cause this metal to dissolve and leach into the water.
The primary source of lead that can result in lead being detected in drinking water at the household tap is from Lead Service Lines (LSLs) that supply some homes built in the 1960s or earlier. The service line is the section of small diameter pipe from the municipal water main beneath the street or alley to the home.
Other sources are plumbing components such as lead-tin solder and brass fittings used in household plumbing. The National Plumbing Code allowed lead-tin solder to be used until 1986.
For more information on the health effects of lead exposure, visit MyHealth.Alberta.ca Information on the health impacts of lead in drinking water can also be found in the following sources:
What is the Drinking Water Safety Program and why did it take place?
Commencing in Spring 2021 and discontinued in 2023, the Town of Innisfail undertook efforts to identify and mitigate any sources of excessive lead contamination in household drinking water in the community. Residents were asked for their assistance in advancing these efforts.
What action(s) were taken?
Residents were asked to help us determine whether or not their household water supply contained excessive amounts of lead contamination. Houses built in the 1960’s or earlier were considered most at risk.
If a water supply was found to exceed the maximum acceptable concentration levels, the Town helped to explore and initiate a solution in accordance to the various options that were available.
The Town encouraged residents with a house that has a lead service line, an older home (built before 1990), or if they suspected that their drinking water may contain lead they participate in the Town’s voluntary lead monitoring program. Priority was given to homes with a confirmed/suspected lead service line, households with children under the age of six and households with pregnant women.
You cannot see, smell or taste lead in water. Laboratory testing of water from the tap is the only way to determine the lead levels in your drinking water.
Identifying Lead/Addressing the Issue
First, find your water meter, it is usually located in the basement.
Check the colour and other attributes of the pipe leading from outside your home to the water meter.
- Lead pipes are a dark, dull grey colour; a magnet will not stick to lead; a lead pipe does not echo if you gently strike it; lead scratches easily and will leave a shiny silver surface and flakes off, it also leaves metallic marks when you rub the scratched area against paper.
- Galvanized steel pipes are also grey; a magnet will stick to them; a scratched area will remain grey in colour.
- Copper pipes are a brownish, copper colour (like a penny); a magnet will not stick to a copper pipe; a scratched area will remain copper in colour.
NPR has created an online, interactive guide to help homeowners locate water lines. To access the site, click here.
If you are unsure whether your pipes, fixtures and solder are lead, or you are unable to reach your pipes or you are uncomfortable doing these tests yourself, hire a plumber to carry out these checks for you.
Ownership of Service Lines
A water pipe, also known as a water service line is the way drinking water is delivered to each home in Innisfail. This water pipe can be thought of as two sections:
From the water main to the property line
This part of the pipe is owned and maintained by the Town of Innisfail.
All water pipes and devices outside the property line are the responsibility of the Town. That includes things like water mains, water main valves and service valves. The Town is responsible for all repairs to these lines.
From the property line to your house
This part of the pipe is owned and maintained by the homeowner.
The homeowner is responsible for all repair costs to the water pipe that leads from their house to the service valve, with the exception of the water meter. The service valve is usually located at or near the property line. The homeowner is also responsible for the main shut-off valve that is normally located inside their house.
In most cases, the property line ends a few meters from the edge of the curb or sidewalk. The legal survey or Real Property Report (RPR) shows where the property line is located.
The water service valve is usually placed very close to the property line. Sometimes the valve is located on the homeowner’s side, however the Town still owns it.
What if my home has elevated levels of lead?
If the results are higher than the maximum allowable concentration (MAC) of 0.005 mg/L it is most likely that your home has a lead service line (LSL) and/or household plumbing that contains lead pipes, fittings or fixtures containing lead.
The Town will conduct follow-up sampling for verification of the results, take steps to identify the source of the contamination, confirm the type of pipe on public and private property, determine what public infrastructure may need to be replaced and provide you further information on what you can do.
What can I do to reduce my exposure to lead?
If the drinking water in your home has elevated levels of lead (> MAC), or if you are concerned about lead in your drinking water, there are effective ways to remove it permanently. In the meantime, you can take the following preventive steps to limit exposure to lead:
- Flush out the water that has been sitting in the home plumbing and service line for a few hours to make sure fresh drinking water comes directly from the water main in the street. Do this first thing in the morning or when you get home from work by flushing the toilet, taking a shower or starting a load of laundry or letting the water run for a couple of minutes.
- Use cold water for drinking and preparing food. Hot water dissolves more lead from plumbing than cold water.
- Boiling your water does not remove lead.
- Clean the faucet aerators (small screens in the faucet outlet) regularly.
- Children under the age of six and pregnant women could consider using alternate sources of drinking water.
- Install a filter device to remove lead.
Lead will not enter through the skin or by breathing in vapours while showering or bathing. Bathing and showering in water that contains levels of lead above the guideline value is considered safe.
Replacing lead service line.
Replacing the lead service line (LSL) to your home is the most effective and permanent way to reduce lead from your drinking water.
The Town is responsible for the cost of replacing the lead service line on public property, from the water main in the street to the property line.
The homeowner is responsible for the cost of replacing the lead service line on private property, from the property line to the house.
If the service line is lead on both sides (private and public) it is recommended to replace the whole service line at the same time. A partial replacement can actually lead to an increase in lead levels at the tap due to the disturbance of the existing LSL, which can dislodge existing lead scales and sediments. Also the cost of a full service line replacement is usually less expensive.
If a homeowner decides to replace the private-side of the LSL, to avoid prolonged elevated lead levels at the tap, the Town will make every effort to replace the public-side as soon as possible.
Upgrading interior plumbing materials.
Upgrading your interior plumbing materials is a permanent solution to ensure your plumbing parts are lead-free. Remove any pipes, fittings or faucets in your home that contain lead and replace them with appropriate materials certified for use in drinking water systems. Make sure that any solder used in your plumbing is lead-free.
These are effective household water treatment devices that are certified to remove lead from drinking water. Health Canada recommends for best results, these devices (faucet-mount or under-the-sink) be installed at the tap that is most commonly used for drinking water. Many devices can achieve the new guideline of 0.005 mg/L. They do, however, require ongoing maintenance, such as the regular replacement of filters. They can serve as a short-term solution until permanent solutions (LSL replacement, upgrading interior plumbing materials) can be implemented.
Make sure that any filter device you purchase is certified to reduce lead by the National Sanitation Foundation (NSF). The device must be installed and maintained according to the instructions given by the manufacturer. Visit the NSF website or call for more information.