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.

Contents

— Action plan
— Backgrounder on water service lines
— Water test results
— Lead in drinking water: public health perspective
— Next steps for residents
— The water network
— Conclusion

Action plan

Water filters

The City of Côte Saint-Luc provides a $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.

Undersink water filtration system

The City of Côte Saint-Luc provides a one-time rebate of up to $200 towards the purchase and installation of an under-sink water filtration system. The $200 one-time rebate on under-sink water filtration systems is also offered for systems installed in 2020.

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 290 homes. We plan on testing the water at all 3,200 homes between 2021 and 2023. 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 a $50 filter rebate and a $200 under-sink filter system rebate 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.

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.

Find information on an address

Age of the watermain

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.

Background

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.

Changing norms

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 billionMilligrams per litreNote
10 ppb0.010 mg/LMaximum acceptable concentration (Quebec, 2001–2019; World Health Organization, current)
6.7 ppb0.0067 mg/LAverage 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 ppb0.005 mg/LMaximum acceptable concentration (Quebec, 2020 onward)
1 ppb0.001 mg/L

Statistics

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%
Concentration de plomb lors de la visite initiale (n=238) Lead concentration at initial visit (n=238)

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.

Download the table in XLSX format.

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.

Recommendations for homes with lead service lines

  1. 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.
  2. Use a water filter pitcher, a tap filter, or a pipe filter beneath your sink. These devices must be NSF/ANSI 53 certified for the removal of lead, and manufacturer’s instructions must be followed. The City of Côte Saint-Luc will provide an annual $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 a one-time $200 rebate for the installation of an under-sink water filtration system.
  3. Replace your water service line from lead to copper. The portion from the property line to the homes belongs to the homeowner. The portion from the property line to the water main under the street belongs to the city. If you replace your portion of the water service line (or if you already have), the City of Côte Saint-Luc will replace the public portion. The replacement schedule will depend on the number of requests. Contact the Engineering Division at 514-485-6800, ext.1501, or [email protected].
  4. Until you replace your water service line or use water filters, do the following to minimize the concentration of lead: let your tap water run for a few minutes after it becomes cool, always use cold water to cook, and clean your tap aerator (strainer) regularly. Please note that boiling tap water does not eliminate lead, as lead does not evaporate, nor is it destroyed through boiling.

More information

To learn more, visit the following resources:

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.

Water mains

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. 

Service lines

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.

Summary

  1. The water leaving the Atwater and Charles J. Des Baillets Filtration Plants is safe with constant testing and less than 1 ppb of lead. 
  2. The water flows through cast iron water mains under Côte Saint-Luc, which are not made of lead.
  3. 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.
  4. 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 has an action.

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. 

More information

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.