Ontario offers band-aid solution to high levels of lead in drinking water

    TORONTO, June 8 /CNW/ - Ontario's Action Plan to address high levels of
lead in drinking water, unveiled yesterday, is a band-aid solution that does
not address the real problems.
    "The Province has failed to address this most critical element, the
replacement of lead service lines. Replacing those lines was recommended in
the Walkerton report five years ago, but the Province clearly prefers that
homeowners flush more frequently and purchase water filters instead," said
Frank Zechner, Executive Director of the Ontario Sewer and Watermain
Construction Association.
    The Province ordered a series of tests in 36 municipalities last month,
but the water was not tested under real life conditions in most homes. The
testing was done after the water ran for at least five minutes and after
'standing' in the pipe for only 30 minutes. Most homeowners do not run their
taps that frequently or for that long. Even under these unrealistic
conditions, the lead concentration in some cities such as Hamilton, St.
Catharines, and Guelph increased by anywhere from 20 to 5000%. If the water
was allowed to stand in those pipes for several hours instead of 30 minutes,
the number of failures would have been much higher.
    The entire testing program was based on running taps for five minutes
twice an hour, but the Province only announced that schools and daycares
should increase flushing frequencies to once a day. Daily flushing will not
bring the lead concentrations down to the values in this week's report because
the concentrations in the report are based on a flush every thirty minutes.
    The Province correctly identifies that water chemistry, such as the
relative acidity of the water, will impact the concentrations of lead in the
water. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency reached similar conclusions
back in 1991, but there are limits as to what can or should be added to our
drinking water. In the U.S., when water chemistry adjustments do not
adequately reduce lead concentrations, the municipality must commence a lead
service line replacement program.
    Provincial experts also recommend that lead service lines be replaced if
water chemistry adjustments are inadequate, but the current pace of
replacement of lead service lines may take decades. The June 7 announcement
however only provides funding for the cost of in-home filters for low-income
families, not for lead service line replacements.
    The Province's own earlier report (June 4) concluded that water filters
"may or may not reduce the exposure to lead due to improper use, or the size
of particular matter present" and noted that "lead particulate removal is not
currently certified."
    Water chemistry adjustments will reduce some of the lead concentrations
to acceptable levels, but this is not a long-term solution. What is needed is
an aggressive program of replacing lead service lines.

    OSWCA is committed to the construction, rehabilitation, maintenance and
expansion of Ontario's core water and wastewater infrastructure to ensure a
plentiful supply of clean water and the preservation of our lakes and rivers.
Established in 1971, the association represents over 700 companies within the
sewer and watermain construction industry.

For further information:

For further information: Frank Zechner, Executive Director, OSWCA, (905)
629-7766, frank.zechner@oswca.org; Dena Fehir, PR POST, (416) 777-0368,

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