Lead pipes and drinking water
Information for home owners and residents
Côte Saint-Luc took over responsibility for water in 2006. It has been testing and monitoring for lead according to Quebec government standards and protocols since 2013. The Quebec government recently announced that it will update how water is to be tested and therefore Côte Saint-Luc will adjust.
Starting January 2020, the City of Côte Saint-Luc will provide a one-time $50 rebate towards the purchase of water filters to every single-family home and duplex built prior to 1976, which are the areas in which the city believes there are water service lines made of lead.
Or download the form and mail in (PDF)
Water filters are a temporary solution, however. Ultimately, the city needs to replace its portion of the water service line and homeowners need to replace their portion of the service line.
Accelerated water testing
To help get us there, we need more data. That’s why we will accelerate water testing. We want results from all the 3,200 single-family homes and duplexes. To date, we have tested water at about 250 homes. We’ll be going to tender in 2020 to get quotes. Given the number of homes involved and the logistics of making appointments with homeowners, we estimate it may three years or more to complete, but our goal is to have it done as soon as possible. According to Quebec environment ministry protocols, we are limited to doing the tests during the summer months.
Replacement of water service lines
The third part of our action plan is to accelerate the replacement of the city’s portion of the water service line. This is a huge job because it involves tearing up the road surface and/or sidewalk. Our staff is costing this out now to see how fast we can do it. But understand that if we change our portion of the water service line, you’ll need to change your portion, too.
Action plan summary
To summarize our action plan, first, we are offering $50 subsidy to every single-family home and duplex living in the areas where there are water service lines made of lead. Second, we will be testing water in all those homes. Finally, we will be replacing the city’s portion of the water service line. We’ll have a timeline on this part of the plan in 2020.
Backgrounder on water service lines
A service line refers to the underground pipe connecting your home’s internal plumbing to the municipal water main. There are two parts to this service line: the municipal portion that goes from the water main under the street to the property line, and the private portion that goes from the property line to the home.
Lead was historically used in service lines and in plumbing fittings and solders. Until 1975, lead was an acceptable material in pipes based on the National Plumbing Code of Canada, so it is more likely to be found in older homes and neighbourhoods. Over time, the corrosion of lead pipes and plumbing can cause lead to leach into drinking water.
This page provides information on the likelihood that lead pipes were used in services lines in your area and/or building type.
Apartment buildings with 8 or more units
Apartment buildings with eight or more units—even older ones—did not use lead service lines. A wider pipe was required and these were not made from lead.
Houses and duplexes
Houses and duplexes part of subdivisions built on or before 1975 likely have lead service lines, and the ones from 1976 onward likely do not. To check to see in what era your subdivision was developed, view the colour coded map below.
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Water test results in Côte Saint-Luc
The following section contains a table with the results of water samples collected from 2013 to 2019 in Côte Saint-Luc. These test results measure lead concentration in the water sample taken from the tap of drinking water in individual homes. The civic number of the household has been removed from the table, however the street is included.
A visual representation of this table superimposed on a map is found below, which illustrates how many tests were done on each block and the number of results from 0 to 5 ppb, 6 to 10 ppb, and 11 ppb and above.
In 2013, cities across Quebec began doing water sample tests for the presence of lead and copper following a directive from the Quebec environment ministry. The water test is done at a tap inside the home and must be done between July 1 and October 1.
At the scheduled appointment time, technicians arrive at the home to be tested. They follow the testing protocol and take water samples, usually from kitchen sinks. The samples are then analyzed at an accredited lab and the results are sent directly to the Quebec environment ministry. A copy of the results is sent to the city, which sends letters to homeowners indicating the levels of lead and copper found during the test. These letters are reviewed by the Quebec public health authority, the Direction régionale de santé publique de Montréal, or DRSP.
In the event that a test result is above the norm, the water must be re-tested. The table of results includes all water test results—include these re-tests. Each test result includes a column indicating whether it was an initial test or re-test. In the statistics summary below, we provide the average test score of the initial water tests (one per household) and also the average test score of all water tests (including the repeated tests at the same household which skews the results because of the double counting of results above 10 ppb). That said, we are providing all the test results in order to be transparent.
While everyone is exposed to trace amounts of lead through air, soil, household dust, food and drinking water, and consumer products, Health Canada states that there is no safe threshold for lead. Montreal’s regional public health department (DRSP) considers that health risks from drinking water are low and different jurisdictions have different maximum acceptable concentrations.
In the table of results, we use the unit of measurement ppb. The unit of measurement mg/L is used by the Quebec government and other agencies. For reference purposes, the table below shows equivalencies between ppb to mg/L and notes different maximum acceptable concentrations in different jurisdictions.
|Parts per billion||Milligrams per litre||Note|
|10 ppb||0.010 mg/L||Maximum acceptable concentration (Quebec, 2001–2019; World Health Organization, current)|
|6.7 ppb||0.0067 mg/L||Average concentration of lead from initial water samples in Côte Saint-Luc (2013 to 2019) at 238 single-family homes and duplexes in areas where the city suspect there are water service lines made of lead|
|5 ppb||0.005 mg/L||Maximum acceptable concentration (Quebec, 2020 onward)|
|1 ppb||0.001 mg/L|
The following is a summary of key statistics from water testing done in Côte Saint-Luc between 2013 and 2019.
- Individual households tested: 238
- Tests done including re-tests at same household: 309
- Average lead concentration at initial test of 238 households: 6.7 ppb
- Percentage of initial test results from < 1 to 5 ppb: 39%
- Percentage of initial test results from < 1 to 10 ppb: 84%
Test results for lead concentrations per block
The map shows the number of tests per block and the test result range from 2013 to 2019. The number inside the circle refers to how many water tests on that block were within that range. For instance, a green cicle with a 3 inside means that there were three water tests on that block measuring between < 1 to 5 ppb.
Table of results
These test results measure lead concentration in the water sample taken from the tap of drinking water in individual homes. The civic number of the household has been removed from the table, however the street is included.
Lead in drinking water: public health perspective
On Thursday, December 12, 2019, Dr. David Kaiser of Montreal Public Health spoke in Côte Saint-Luc about lead in drinking water. This video is a summary of the event including the answers to questions from the audience.
Next steps for residents
- You can hire a plumber or home inspector to advise you on whether you have a lead service line. If you prefer to do it yourself, look for the pipe entering your home in your basement, garage or crawl space. Do a visual inspection. Lead is grey and will not attract a magnet. If you scratch the pipe with a key, it will appear silver-coloured rather than copper-coloured. Please note that this is not 100 percent conclusive as it is possible that the water service line underground is made of the different material.
- While knowing if your home has a lead service line is important, ultimately testing your water is the best way to learn whether there’s lead in it. Accredited laboratories can test your drinking water. The cost is usually between $150 and $250. View the list of accredited labs in Quebec . The city has announced that it will test all homes where it believes there is a water service line made of lead, however, it could three years or more to complete.
Recommendations for homes with lead service lines
- REPLACE: Although having a lead service does not necessarily mean that you have a high concentration of lead in your water, the City of Côte Saint-Luc nonetheless recommends that you plan for its eventual replacement. Côte Saint-Luc will replace its portion of the service line when a resident decides to replace their portion. The direct cost to a homeowner to replace the service line under their property is typically between $2,000 to $5,000. Contact the Engineering Division at 514-485-6800, ext.1501, or firstname.lastname@example.org if you are planning on scheduling the work so the city can coordinate its work.
- FILTER: Use a filter pitcher, tap-mounted filter, or under-sink filter that is certified NSF / ANSI # 53 for Lead Reduction. Not all brands of filter pitchers remove lead, so be sure to verify. Also, be sure to replace the cartridges regularly as instructed.
If you don’t know whether you have a lead pipe service line or lead in your water, here are some things that household can do immediately:
- Flush the toilet each morning before running the tap. This allows new water to enter the home and sediments that may have gathered in the service pipe (under your lawn) will be washed away. One can do the same thing when the family returns in the afternoon. Running the washing machine or taking a shower will also work.
- Let tap water run a few minutes after it has become cold (cool in summer) before drinking. After running tap water, you can fill a pitcher that you can keep in the fridge for a few days.
- Always use cold water for direct consumption as well as for preparing food, reconstituted milk and drinks (including water for cooking).
- Regularly remove debris that can accumulate in the aerator (small screen) of the faucets.
To learn more, visit the following resources:
- Government of Quebec
Lead in drinking water: what can you do? (PDF) [In French only]
- Government of Canada
- City of Montreal
The water network from the filtration plant to your tap
The drinking water produced by the City of Montreal is safe. It is tested at the water filtration plant. Côte Saint-Luc also tests it 30 times a month as it flows under our streets. However, traces of lead can enter the drinking water just before entering your home, or inside your home. The following overview explains how water gets from the filtration plant to your tap, the places where lead can get into the water, and which households are most likely to be affected.
Water filtration plant
The water you pour from your tap starts at the Atwater and Charles J. Des Baillets Filtration Plants, which supply water for most Montreal boroughs, Montreal East, Westmount, Côte Saint-Luc, Montreal West, Town of Mount Royal and Hampstead. The plants continuously test the water for things like E. coli to ensure the water is safe. It also tests for the presence of lead. According to its 2016 report (PDF), there is less than 1 ppb of lead in drinking water at the filtration plant. It is then pumped to a series of reservoirs.
Gravity pulls the water through a series of large underground pipes called water mains. These water mains are usually made of cast iron. Most importantly to the current discussion, water mains are not made of lead. At this stage along the way to your home, there are little to no traces of lead in the water.
Water service line pipes
After its journey from the water filtration plant, through the water mains, the water now enters your water service line. This is the pipe that carries water from the water main under the street to your home. The water service line is one of the places where lead can enter your drinking water, but only if the service line pipe is made of lead on the private section, public section, or both sections.
According to a statistical analysis done by the City of Montreal, it estimates that approximately 1,800 single-family homes and duplexes built before 1970 in Côte Saint-Luc have a water service line made of lead. To put this number in context, approximately 14,900 households (ie, apartments and houses built from 1970 onward) do not have a water service line made of lead.
Based on water tests done at approximately 238 households in Côte Saint-Luc between 2013 and 2019, approximately 16.6 percent of homes with water service lines made of lead had levels of lead above the 2001 to 2019 norm of 10 ppb. The average level at all households tested was 6.7 ppb.
Pipes inside your single-family home, duplex, or apartment
After flowing through the water service line, the water flows through the pipes inside your home, behind your walls, and eventually through the faucet and aerator. These are other potential sources of lead.
What this means is that even if you live in a subdivision built after the early- to mid-1970s, or in an apartment building with a water service line made of copper or cast iron, there is still a chance that there could be some level of lead in your drinking water because of the plumbing inside your house or apartment.
- The water leaving the Atwater and Charles J. Des Baillets Filtration Plants is safe with constant testing and less than 1 ppb of lead.
- The water flows through cast iron water mains under Côte Saint-Luc, which are not made of lead.
- The water flows through a water service line under your lawn, which connects the water main to the water valve in your home. Between 10 percent to 19 percent of households have a water service line which may be made of lead.
- In some cases, the water that flows into houses, duplexes, and apartments passes through pipes, fittings, and faucets that may be made of lead. There is no estimate for how many households are affected. Homeowners need to consult a plumber.
Conclusion and next steps
The issue of lead in drinking water is an important one, but not one that should cause panic. No cases of lead poisoning have ever been reported in Montreal (PDF). The information presented is meant to provide context on the issue of lead pipes and drinking water.
The City of Côte Saint-Luc will be announcing its action plan before the end of 2019 on the issue of lead pipes and drinking water. A water filter is a relatively inexpensive way to ensure there is no lead in your drinking water and you can purchase them right away. For more information on water filters, visit CoteSaintLuc.org/leadpipes.
Finally, while the focus on this information has been lead pipes and drinking water, it is worth adding that Côte Saint-Luc’s water management firm tests the water flowing through city water mains 30 times a month. This is an added precaution to guard against outbreaks of E.coli or other bacteria than can make people sick.
See Health Canada’s Sources of lead in drinking water .
Watch the City of Montreal’s video on how to check for pipes made of lead.