Lead Control Program
Improving Winnipeg's water
What is lead?
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.
What is the guideline for lead in drinking water?
The Guidelines for Canadian Drinking Water Quality sets the maximum acceptable level of lead at 0.01 parts per million, based on a flushed sample (letting the tap run for five minutes before collecting a water sample).
Does Winnipeg's tap water meet this guideline?
Yes, the tap water in most Winnipeg homes meets this level. We know this because:
- there is no detectable lead in Shoal Lake, the source of Winnipeg's water supply
- only about 13% of the approximately 198,000 water pipes from homes and buildings that connect to our water mains have some portion of lead, either on the City-owned portion (from shut-off valves to the water mains), or the property owner portion (from the premises up to the shut-off valve near the property line)
- our Orthophosphate Program controls lead levels in homes and buildings with lead pipes (as shown by our sampling program)
- we no longer have any water mains made of lead
What are you doing to reduce lead levels in our tap water?
We have a lead control program that includes our:
- 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.
- during a water main renewal, we advise property owners that they can replace their part of the water pipe at the same time. This allows them to benefit from any cost savings.
- It would be costly to replace all the lead pipes at once, and this would not completely get rid of the lead in tap water. Also, most homes and apartments in Winnipeg likely have some lead in their plumbing systems, in lead pipes, lead pipe fittings, lead solder or fixtures.
- For this reason, we looked at other ways of reducing the amount of lead in the water. We carried out research and pilot testing for more than a year.
- Finally, we decided that adding orthophosphate was the best way to control the level of lead in Winnipeg's tap water.
- We began adding orthophosphate to the water supply in June 2000.
Why is it important to reduce the amount of lead in tap water?
Shoal Lake's water is soft, and soft water is naturally corrosive. Our water may gradually dissolve small amounts of lead from:
- water pipes made of lead
- lead-based solder used to join copper pipe. For many years, lead solder was widely used to connect water pipes. In 1989, the province banned the use of solder containing more than 0.2% lead in drinking water plumbing systems.
- water taps made of material such as brass and chrome-plated brass, which contain small amounts of lead
The longer water sits in plumbing systems containing lead, the more lead it will dissolve and expose people to lead in tap water. Lead in water cannot be seen, and has no taste or smell.
How do I know if I have a lead water pipe?
Your home may have a lead water pipe if it was built in the inner-city before 1946 or the suburbs before the mid-1950s.
To find out if the pipe that connects your home or apartment to the water main is made of lead, contact us. We may have a record of the type of water pipe used for your water service.
How can I get my tap water tested for lead?
Contact us if you have lead water pipes and you wish to have your tap water tested. We will ask you to:
- pick up a sample kit from our lab
- take samples of your tap water
- return the sample containers to our lab
We will test the samples free of charge and give you the results.
Do any home water treatment devices remove lead from tap water?
Yes. The following home water treatment devices may reduce or remove lead:
- distillation units
- reverse osmosis units
- water filters with this certification on their label: ANSI/NSF Standard No. 53 for reduction of lead
Filters can remove unwanted components from water. Yet some filters improve the taste and odour of water, but do not remove lead. If you want to buy a water treatment device, Health Canada strongly recommends that you buy one that is certified by ANSI/NSF. Check the certification statement on the label to ensure that the filter will do what you want.
For information on home water treatment devices, call the NSF International free hotline at 1-877-867-3435 or visit:
Follow the manufacturer's instructions for taking care of your water treatment device. Replace filters when recommended. A filter that is not working properly could produce unsafe water.
Additional tips to consider:
Even though orthophosphate will control lead levels in our tap water, it is a good idea to:
- Use only cold water for cooking and drinking. If you need hot water for cooking or drinking, draw water from the cold tap and heat it. Hot tap water can contain higher levels of metals, such as copper, because metals dissolve more easily in hot water.
- Avoid drinking tap water that has been standing in the plumbing system for a long time, such as overnight or during the workday. Let the tap run until the water turns cold. Fill a container and keep it in the fridge for drinking. Flushed water may be used for watering plants or washing dishes.
- Insist on lead-free materials when plumbing work is done in your home.
- 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. You can replace it at any time, but the most economical time to do this work is when we are replacing City-owned lead pipes. A licensed water contractor must get a water connection services permit and do the work.
Who can I call for information about the effect of lead on my health?
You can contact:
- your health care provider
- your local public health nurse at any of the Winnipeg Regional Health Authority community offices
- Health Links-Info Santé at 204-788-8200