Lead & Drinking Water
Water produced at the City’s drinking water treatment plants does not contain lead. Lead can be found in:
- water service pipes in homes built before the mid-1950s
- solder used to join pipes together before 1990
- leaded-brass fixtures, such as faucets and valves
As these items corrode and breakdown, lead can enter drinking water.
Apartment and other buildings with more than six units do not have lead pipes, regardless of age. Lead is too soft to handle the pressure needed for these types of buildings.
Lead can affect how the brain and nervous system grows. According to Toronto Public Health, those most at risk include:
- pregnant women
- infants (in particular those who are fed formula made from tap water)
- children under the age of six
Toronto Public Health strongly recommends replacing your side of the lead service pipe at the same time that the City is replacing its side. Cutting the pipe to replace just one portion can cause particles of lead to enter drinking water, which can lead to a temporary spike in lead levels.
What is a Water Service Pipe?
The water service pipe delivers water into a building. This pipe is divided into two parts.
1. The part that the City owns runs from the watermain on the street up to the property line.
2. The part from the property line into the home is private property and the responsibility of the homeowner.
Lead pipes affect residential homes. There are approximately 437,000 residential customers in the City of Toronto. Of these, it is estimated that approximately 31,250 contain lead water service pipes.
How to Know if You Have Lead Pipes
1. Find out if you live in a house built before the mid-1950s. If so, it likely has a lead water service pipe. If you own your house, check the purchase papers. If you rent, ask the owner.
2. If possible, look at the pipe that goes into your water meter. If it is grey, scratches easily and does not sound hollow when you tap it, it may be lead.
A licensed plumber is the best way to determine if your water service pipe is lead. They will likely need to enter your basement to make a visual inspection of the pipe.
The City also offers free lead testing to help determine if you have lead in your water.
What to Do if You Have Lead Pipes
Toronto Public Health recommends those with lead pipes take the following actions:
Replace the entire lead water service pipe
It is recommended that you replace both the City-owned portion of the pipe, as well as the portion on your private property. Cutting the pipe to replace just one side can cause particles of lead to enter drinking water, which can cause a temporary spike in lead levels. Residents who commit to replacing their side of the pipe can apply to have the City replace its side through the Priority Lead Water Service Replacement Program.
Flush your pipes
If it has been a few hours since you have used water, run a tap until the water is very cold, and then let it run for at least one more minute. This will pull fresh water from the watermain into the pipes.
Use cold water for cooking and drinking
Lead in pipes moves more readily into hot water than into cold water. Cold water is less likely to contain lead, even after flushing the pipes.
If you are pregnant and/or have a child under six
Install an end-of-tap water filter
Look for filters certified by the National Sanitation Foundation for lead removal and reduction. Install this filter on the tap you use most often for cooking or for water to drink. The City offers a faucet filter rebate to eligible homeowners.
Breast feed your baby
Breast feeding is healthy and the amount of lead in breast milk is much lower than tap water. If you have made an informed decision to use formula, use cold filtered tap water, boil it and let it cool. Use within 30 minutes. Until you have a filter, consider using bottled water for drinking and making baby formula, or ready-to-feed formula.
How the City is Managing Lead and Drinking Water
In 2011, Toronto City Council approved the Lead in Drinking Water Mitigation Strategy, a multi-pronged approach aimed at protecting public health by reducing lead in drinking water. Components of the strategy include:
Homeowners in Toronto can submit a drinking water sample to be tested for lead levels free of charge at one of Toronto Water’s accredited labs. Find out where to pick up a lead testing kit and how it works.
The City of Toronto has enhanced its drinking water treatment process to add phosphate, which forms a protective coating inside all pipes. Learn more about the City’s Corrosion Control Plan.
Lead pipe replacement
Each year, the City aims to replace 5,000 substandard water services pipes through the programs listed below. Many of these pipes will be lead.
- Priority Lead Water Service Replacement Program: Residents that commit to replacing the private portion of a lead water service can apply to have the City replace its side on a priority basis.
- Capital Water Service Replacement Program: The City replaces substandard drinking water pipes during planned construction projects, such as road, sewer and watermain work.
- Emergency replacement: This occurs when the pipe that supplies water to a home is broken or has low flow.
Faucet Filter Program
Faucet filter distribution
The City provides a free faucet filter for lead removal to homeowners whenever the City-owned portion of a lead water service is replaced. Toronto Public Health also distributes free filters to participants of the Canada Prenatal Nutrition Program.
Faucet filter rebate
Residents that have lead pipes can apply for a rebate to help purchase an NSF-053 certified filter for lead removal and/or replacement cartridges if they meet all of the following criteria:
- There is child under six and/or a pregnant woman living in the home.
- The home is a single family, duplex or triplex building.
- The annual household income is less than $50,000.