Lead and Winnipeg's Water
Health Canada has updated the national guidelines for lead in drinking water to make drinking water even safer by decreasing the amount of allowable lead in drinking water to 0.005 mg/L or less.
Winnipeg's water continues to be safe to consume and meets established guidelines. The City of Winnipeg is offering free water quality testing to residents who may have lead water pipes through its lead water quality testing program.
If you want more information on the effect of lead on your health, please contact:
- your health care provider
- Health Links-Info Santé at 204-788-8200
- Lead in water
- Reducing lead exposure
- Lead pipes and water quality testing
- Lead control programs
Lead in water
Lead is a common, natural metal found throughout the environment. Lead can be harmful if too much of it enters the body. Before experts knew it could be harmful, lead was used in many products, such as gasoline, paint, solder, pottery, crystal and plumbing hardware. It cannot be seen, tasted or smelled in drinking water.
Most homes within Winnipeg are not impacted by lead in drinking water because:
- Our water source has no detectable lead.
- The City of Winnipeg administers lead control programs including lead water quality testing, orthophosphate and lead pipe replacement.
- Approximately 87 percent of Winnipeg homes don't have lead water pipes.
Homes built before the mid-1950s may have lead pipes. (How to tell if you have lead pipes)
Some homes may have lead solder connections or water taps made out of brass and chrome-plated brass. Prior to 1989, lead solder was widely used to connect water pipes.
Concerned about lead in your water?
Reducing lead exposure
Homeowners with lead pipes or connections can reduce exposure by following these tips:
- Flush your plumbing system before consuming any water that has been standing in your pipes for more than 6 hours, as standing water can absorb metals from the pipes.
- You can flush your system by running your tap for up to 10 minutes, flushing the toilet, taking a shower or starting a load of laundry
- After flushing, fill containers with water and keep them in the fridge for drinking.
- Use cold water for cooking and drinking, as hot tap water can absorb trace metals from water pipes.
- Consider using home water treatment devices that have the proper certification to reduce or remove lead, including:
- Water filters with the Health Canada recommended certification label ANSI/NSF Standard No. 53 for reduction of lead (look for the blue NSF logo)
- Distillation units
- Reverse osmosis units
- Consider replacing the pipe (if it is lead) that runs from your home up to the shut-off valve (usually at your property line). You are responsible for this part of the water pipe. A licensed water contractor must get a water connection services permit and do the work.
Be sure to follow all manufacturers' instructions for maintaining water treatment devices and replacing filters. Not doing so could produce unsafe water.
For information on home water treatment devices, call NSF International's free hotline at 1-877-867-3435 or visit:
Lead pipes and water quality testing
Below are photos showing the difference between a lead pipe and a copper pipe.
If you can't tell what kind of pipes you have in your home or apartment, contact 311 as we may have a record of the type of water pipe used for your water service.
If you have lead water pipes and you wish to have your tap water tested, contact 311.
City of Winnipeg's Lead Control Programs
Water quality testing program
The City of Winnipeg is launching a water quality testing program in August 2019 that will offer free water quality testing for residents who have lead water pipes, as the Government of Canada has recently reduced the allowable lead level in drinking water.
In August 2019, we will be sending out letters to residents who, according to our records, may have lead water pipes, inviting them to submit a water sample for testing, free of charge.
If you have lead water pipes and are interested in having your water tested for lead as part of this program, please contact 311 to arrange for testing.
Please note that the City of Winnipeg does NOT go door-to-door to offer water testing.
In June 2000, the City began adding orthophosphate to the water supply to control lead levels in Winnipeg's tap water after carrying out research and pilot testing for more than a year.
How does orthophosphate reduce lead levels in the water?
Orthophosphate works by forming a protective coating inside water pipes. This coating helps reduce corrosion that can add lead to the water supply. We add orthophosphate in small amounts in the form of food-grade phosphoric acid. Phosphoric acid is a clear, odourless liquid. It is found in many popular food products, such as soft drinks.
You would need to drink more than 100 glasses of tap water to get the same amount of phosphoric acid that you would get in one glass of most colas.
Do you monitor lead levels in the water?
Yes. We monitor lead levels in the water using:
- A lead loop piping system designed to replicate a lead water service to a home or building
- A volunteer sampling program with homeowners who have lead pipes serving their homes
- Routine water quality testing to monitor water quality changes within the distribution system and the quality of water delivered to customers.
Winnipeg water is intensively monitored on a routine basis to ensure that the water is safe and that regulatory requirements are met.
How much orthophosphate do you add to the water?
We add orthophosphate at a rate of 2 parts per million.
Does orthophosphate change the chemistry of the water?
Yes, a little. As we add orthophosphate to the water, the pH drops about 0.1 units below normal. This means that the alkalinity is reduced by less than 2 parts per million.
What is the annual cost of adding orthophosphate to the water supply?
It costs about $200,000 annually to operate the Orthophosphate Program.
Why did you select orthophosphate?
We selected orthophosphate because it is safe and economical. It is the most efficient way to reduce lead to levels below the national guideline. The program was approved by both Manitoba Health and Manitoba Conservation. It follows the Public Health Act. Several cities in the United States and Canada use orthophosphate to control lead in tap water.
Are there any other benefits to adding orthophosphate to the water?
The protective coating inside the water pipes extends the life of household plumbing and water-using appliances, such as hot water tanks.
Do you monitor the impact of the Orthophosphate Program on the environment?
Yes. Much of our water supply ends up as wastewater at the three sewage treatment plants. Here it is treated and released to the Red and Assiniboine Rivers. Since we started the Orthophosphate Program, results of wastewater tests show:
- The phosphorus levels haven't changed much at the South End and West End plants
- The phosphorus levels are about 14 per cent higher at the North End plant
- The phosphorus levels have decreased about 8 per cent in biosolids
- The lead levels have decreased about 37 per cent in biosolids
Where can I get more information on Winnipeg's water?
If you would like more information on Winnipeg's water, check out the other information on our web site or contact us.
Lead Pipe Replacements
Any time we are replacing a water main or fixing a leak on City-owned lead pipes that connect to a water main, we replace all City-owned lead pipes with lead-free pipe. We also provide property owners with the opportunity to replace their part of the water pipe when we're doing a water main renewal, so they can benefit from any cost savings.
Responsibility of homeowners with lead water pipes
You own the water pipe from your home up to the shut-off valve (usually at your property line).
We own the water pipe from the shut-off valve at the property line to the water main.
Replacing your lead pipe while we are doing a water main renewal
We will advise you if we are replacing our part of the lead pipe leading to the shut-off valve. You may wish to replace your part of the pipe at the same time.
If you decide to replace your part of the pipe while we are replacing ours:
- You must use a water contractor licensed by us. They must get a water connection service permit
- We will then fill the hole and restore the surface as part of our work
- You will have to pay all other costs of replacing the water pipe on your property
Replacing your lead pipe at any other time
If you decide to replace your part of the pipe at another time, you must:
- Hire a water contractor licensed by us.
- They must get a water connection service permit.
- Pay all costs of replacing the water pipe on your property.
- Contact us so that we can determine if the City portion of the water service is lead.
- If it is, we will replace our part of the pipe as our schedule permits. We will pay for this work.