Lead in our drinking water?


Recently, there have been a number of articles and studies published regarding the high levels of lead in the tap water of Canadian cities, as well as the damaging effects of exposure to lead in children. These concerning levels are mainly due to lead pipes that are part of an ageing drinking-water infrastructure.

According to a recent study quoted by CTV news in November, 12% of houses tested in Ottawa exceeded the acceptable Ontario limit of 10 parts per billion (ppb), while Health Canada has set the limit at 5 ppb. “Ottawa’s tap water is one of the best,” said Water Quality Engineer for the City of Ottawa Ian Douglas, in that CTV interview. However, according to Douglas, lead pipes were used in homes built between 1800 and 1955; these are estimated to be roughly 15% of homes in Ottawa, or 30 000 houses.

Many houses in the core, such as in Sandy Hill, date from this period, and some of these may be part of the 12% that exceed the acceptable limit.

The City of Ottawa has a program to test household tap water, as well as to help residents change their lead intake service pipes, through the Lead pipe replacement program (details at The City has also published a pamphlet called Keep your tap water lead-free with more information for residents.

We recently had our tap water tested and were told that our water is lead-free (after a 2 minute flush of the tap). Many older houses in the city have had their intake pipes changed during renovations or conversions, as ours was.

Others, however, have had lead in their water since their home was built. For some longtime residents, that means that generations of people were born and grew up in houses that had damaging levels of lead, without being aware of the long-term effects. We now know that even small amounts of lead can affect the mental and physical development of a fetus in utero, or of infants and young children.

If you are concerned about the levels of lead in the water of your home, call the City of Ottawa at 311 and request a free water test. In the meantime, as per Douglas’ recommendation, flush your pipes for 2 minutes in the morning to eliminate lead that may gather in standing water.

The City can tell you whether your intake pipe was changed, by calling 613-580-2424, ext. 22300, or by e-mailing