Lead pipes and drinking water: response to Global News report

A Global News report by Dan Spector on November 18, 2019, about the issue of lead pipes in Côte Saint-Luc contained factual errors, misleading reporting, and a wildly irresponsible headline.

Dan Spector begins the report stating that “between 2015 and 2018, Côte Saint-Luc had the third worst record in the province with 46 tap water samples that exceeded Quebec safety limits.”

First, that number is not accurate. Between those years, the total number of homes where the city found lead above the Quebec norms was 36, not 46. Second, calling it the “third worst record” is misleading. We assume that this number is the third highest because we do more tests and report more tests than other cities our size with post-war housing.

A fairer comparison would have been to compare the percentage of samples that are above the norm in various cities. This would give a better sense of how CSL is ranked. But instead, Global News used a metric that penalizes cities that take more total samples.

Towards the end of the report, Dan Spector compares the 100,000 tests that the City of Montreal (population 1.75 million) has announced it will do over the next three years with the 40 tests that the City of Côte Saint-Luc (population 33,644) performed this past year. This is an unhelpful comparison given the different sizes of these two cities.

Of the 269 tests done between 2013 and 2019, 82 percent showed results at or below the Quebec norm for lead levels. Most of the results that were above the norm were just over by a few parts per billion. Quebec reviewed our action plan and concluded that it corresponds to their recommendations on lead in pipes.

Our proactive methods, and the fact that we hire professionals in the field to manage our water network allows us to identify areas of concern in our water faster and better than other cities. Côte Saint-Luc has sleeved about 24 percent of the water pipes which has allowed us to reduce the number of watermain breaks by 58 percent preventing homes from being flooded. We have ensured that when there is a break, there is a team on-site usually within 30 minutes, any time of the day or night.

We have been proactive in testing our water network for lead and other substances. Even though water is supplied by the City of Montreal, we test the water in Côte Saint-Luc at multiple points, more than 30 times per month to make sure it is free of bacteria. In terms of lead testing, we have done more tests than virtually any other city our size in Quebec. Additionally, we have targeted our testing to areas of the city where we suspect that there may be lead pipes, based on the age of the infrastructure.

We recognize that even a small percentage of results over the accepted norm is too high, and are working on a multi-faceted plan to reduce the amount of lead in the water. We are also working to inform and engage our residents. If their water is found to contain higher levels of lead, we advise them on ways to reduce lead exposure and recommend they change their service lines and we change ours at the same time.