Lead FAQ

Lead FAQ

General Information

What is lead?
Is lead harmful to my health?
What can I do to reduce the risk of exposure to lead?
How can I find out if I have been exposed to high amounts of lead?
 

Lead in Water

How can lead get into my drinking water?
What is the safe limit for lead in drinking water?
What is the level of lead in St. John's drinking water at point of origin?
How can I tell if there may be lead in my water pipes?
What are my obligations regarding my service line?
How can I minimize exposure to lead in my older home?
What about bathing, swimming, and washing dishes or clothes in water that contains lead?
Can in-home water treatment systems reduce lead levels
How do I get my water tested for lead levels?
What is the City doing to reduce the risk of exposure to lead?
Who do I call if I have questions or concerns about water quality?

Lead in Paint

How do I deal with lead-based paint within my home?
How do I protect myself and my family during renovations?
 

Lead in Soil

Is there lead in the soil in St. John's?
How can I reduce my exposure to lead while gardening?
How can I minimize my children's exposure to lead in soil?

GENERAL INFORMATION

What is lead?
Lead is a soft, heavy, inexpensive metal, which makes it useful in the manufacture of many consumer products such as pipes, sheeting, and as filler in the automobile body industry. In Canada, the major use of lead is in the manufacture of (lead-acid) batteries used in automobiles. It is also used in ammunition, fishing weights, and solder. Lead pigments are added to glass to prevent radiation exposure from television and computer screens, to storage containers for nuclear waste and to x-ray shielding aprons. Lead-acid batteries account for the most significant proportion of global lead consumption.

Lead has also been used in consumer products such as leaded gasoline, paint and pipes. Lead can be found in water, soil and dust as it is naturally occurring in nature and also because of its previous commercial uses.

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Is lead harmful to my health?

Infants, children and unborn children are most at risk to health effects from exposure to lead. Lead is present in many sources including food, dust, soil, some paint products and drinking water. Drinking water's contribution to total lead exposure is very low.

Lead can affect how the brain and nervous system grows and has the most impact on the fetus, infants and children under six years old. If young children have too much lead in their body, it can be harder for them to learn new things, sit still and get along with other children. Adults and children over six years old are not likely to be affected by the amount of lead in drinking water.

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What can I do to reduce the risk of exposure to lead?

Do not use ceramic cookware from foreign countries to heat water or store food unless you're sure that they are lead-free.
Do not store beverages in lead crystal containers.
If you work around lead, shower and change clothing and shoes at work. Wash work clothes separately.
Be aware that some hobby activities like furniture refinishing, model building and working with metals or stained glass can be sources of lead.
Do not use exterior paints indoors since they may contain lead.
To further reduce lead exposure, clean frequently, including:
Vacuum carpets and upholstery at least once per week.
Damp-mop (dusting with a damp cloth rather than a dry cloth, which disperses the dust but does not remove it) floors and other hard surfaces.
Carefully dispose of vacuum cleaner bags and dust cloths.
Wash hands after cleaning and before eating.
Keep play areas or surfaces clean by using a wet or damp mop or rag to clean floors or surfaces.
Wash bottles, pacifiers, toys and stuffed animals regularly.
Eat nutritious, low-fat meals high in iron and calcium, such as spinach and dairy products. These nutrients will lessen the amount of lead absorbed in the body.

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How can I find out if I have been exposed to high amounts of lead?

If you are concerned that you or a family member has been exposed to high amounts of lead, your doctor can order tests to measure the blood lead level.

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LEAD IN WATER

How can lead get into my drinking water?

Lead is a soft metal that was used to make many consumer products.

One of the main ways that lead can get into your drinking water is when the water pipe that goes to your home from the underground water main is made of lead. This pipe is called the "service line". The longer water sits unused in a service line, the greater the amount of lead which might be present in the water. If you live in a house built before the mid-1950s, your service line could be made of lead. If you live in an apartment building of any age, your service line would not be made of lead - lead service lines were not used for large buildings.

Smaller amounts of lead may have been used as the "solder" or seam of service lines in any home (including apartment buildings) built before the late 1980s. As well, you may find lead inside a home's plumbing system.

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What is the safe limit for lead in drinking water?

Health Canada has established a maximum acceptable concentration for lead in drinking water of 10 ppb (parts per billion)(this number can also be referred to as 10 micrograms/litre or 0.010 milligrams/litre) in a free flowing sample of water. This drinking water guideline has been developed to protect the population most at risk, namely infants and young children.

Health Canada has stated that consuming water over the course of a lifetime (i.e. 70 years) with lead levels at or near the guideline value is considered to be protective of human health.

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What is the level of lead in St. John's drinking water at point of origin?

The lead level at the City's source water has been routinely measured to be below detectable levels.

The St. John's source water supplies are tested on average twice a year by both the municipality and provincial government for a number of parameters. As a result of their most recent testing in 2010, the Provincial Department of Environment and Conservation has given both of St. John's' water supplies a Drinking Water Quality Index of "Excellent". A rating of "Excellent" on the Drinking Water Quality Index scale is only given to systems where "water quality is protected with a virtual absence of impairment; conditions are very close to pristine levels."

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How can I tell if there may be lead in my water pipes?

Find out if you live in a house built before the mid-1950s. If you own your house, you can determine the age of your home by looking at the legal papers from when you bought it. If you rent, ask the owner.

Both lead and copper piping were used until the mid-1950s when copper water service lines became the standard in the plumbing industry. Lead-based solder was used in some instances for plumbing until prohibited in 1990 by the National Plumbing Code.

If it is possible, look at where the water service line enters your home. If it is grey, scratches easily and does not sound hollow when you tap it, it may be lead.

A licensed plumber can determine if a home contains lead solder, lead pipes or pipe fittings that contain lead. The presence of these materials does not mean lead is in the water, but that the potential for lead in the water exists.

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What are my obligations regarding my service line?

According to the City of St. John's Act responsibility for the installation of service lines and all connections and all costs related thereto lies with the owner of the building. Further, all maintenance and renewals of service lines and all costs related thereto are the responsibility of the owner of the building. City water mains are not made of lead.

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How can I minimize exposure to lead in my older home?

While St. John's drinking water complies with the Guidelines for Canadian Drinking Water Quality, residents in older homes can reduce their potential exposure to lead in water by following a few simple practices:
Do not drink water that has been standing in your household water pipes for more than six hours. To rid your plumbing system of standing water, let the water run for approximately five minutes. You can use the flushed water for other purposes such as plant watering or household cleaning.
Flushing the toilet and washing your hands, or taking a shower is more than sufficient to flush standing water from your pipes each morning.
Always use cold, fresh water for drinking, cooking, making baby formula and preparing beverages. Do not use hot water as it may contain higher levels of lead.
Every three months or so, remove the aerator from the faucet of any taps from which drinking water is frequently taken for drinking or food preparation purposes. Clean the aerator by removing any visible particles and rinsing water through it. Take a moment to immerse the aerator in a bleach solution, and then re-install.
If you are making plumbing changes, be sure to select low-lead or no-lead fixtures.
Boiling water DOES NOT remove lead.

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What about bathing, swimming and washing dishes or clothes in water that contains lead?

These activities will not cause significant exposure to lead. Lead in water is not easily absorbed through the skin or eyes.

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Can in-home water treatment systems reduce lead levels?

Some in-home water treatment equipment such as lead removing filters, reverse osmosis systems, and distillation units remove lead dissolved in water. There are inexpensive filter systems in the marketplace that remove lead from water. It is important to ensure systems are properly maintained as per manufacturer's instructions.

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How do I get my water tested for lead levels?

For an evaluation of lead levels in the pipes inside the home, residents will have to arrange for testing by a private laboratory. The City recommends that residents arrange water testing by an accredited, licensed laboratory. You can't see, smell or taste lead in your water. Testing at the tap is the only way to measure the lead levels in your home or workplace.

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What is the City doing to reduce the risk of exposure to lead?

The City of St. John's' water treatment processes include pH and alkalinity adjustments, which reduce the potential for corrosion of water pipes and minimize the amount of lead that can dissolve into drinking water.

Extensive testing of City of St. John's drinking water is also carried out to ensure that water delivered to residents' homes meets the Guidelines for Canadian Drinking Water Quality.

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Who do I contact if I have questions or concerns about water quality?

Access St. John's 311.

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LEAD IN PAINT

How do I deal with lead-based paint within my home?

Paint manufactured before 1980 contained lead. When old lead paint is chipped, peeled or sanded it can still release particles of lead into household dust and soil. Areas with a lot of abrasion, such as window sashes, doors and rails, are prone to creating dust. Homes built before 1950 are particularly likely to contain lead, as paints used then often contained a very high amount of lead.

When renovating or repairing a house built before 1980 people need to take special precautions to avoid being exposed to high amounts of lead. It is also important to make sure that painted surfaces in older homes are well maintained, as children may eat lead paint chips or put their mouths on window sills.

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How do I protect myself and my family during renovations?

The following are some tips to deal with lead paint:
Get the advice of a qualified contractor on how to safely deal with old painted surfaces that require renovation or repair.
Keep painted surfaces in good repair and wipe up any paint chips immediately with a damp cloth.
Pay special attention to dust control during renovations. Regularly clean up house dust by wet mopping and carefully disposing of vacuum cleaner bags and dust cloths.
Do not use heat stripping to remove lead paint as it releases lead into the air and is dangerous.
Keep pregnant women and children out of renovated spaces until the work is finished and well cleaned.
Wash hands after cleaning.

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LEAD IN SOIL

Is there lead in the soil in St. John's?

A previous study shows that areas within the City of St. John's have high levels of lead in its soil, especially in the downtown area. This is common in older urban areas.

Primary sources of lead in downtown soils appear to be a combination of:
Coal and coal dust.
Coal combustion products (mostly prior to 1950s).
Leaded gasoline exhaust (prior to 1990).
Leaded paint weathering and combustion products.1
The City's Parks Division follows recommendations whereby if it must expose soil it is covered as soon as work is concluded either by resodding the area or covering the area in fresh soil.

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How can I reduce my exposure to lead while gardening?

The following steps can help you avoid exposure to lead in soil and garden produce:
Add organic matter (such as compost) to your soil.
Add fertilizer to soil and keep it well aerated.
Keep soil moist to control dust.
Do not drink, smoke or eat while gardening.
Use gloves and something to kneel on if you are wearing shorts.
Remove all soil from produce before bringing it inside your home.
Designate certain clothing for gardening only, and wash them separately from other laundry.
Remove gardening footwear before entering the home.
Store all gardening tools and supplies outside the home.
Limit your pet's exposure to soil and remove soil from pets before they come into the house.
Thoroughly wash garden-grown fruits and vegetables with soap and water before eating or cooking.
Plant food gardens away from foundation of the house if paint is peeling from the outside of the building (exterior paint may contain lead).

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How can I minimize my children's exposure to lead in soil?

To minimize children's exposure to soil:
Wash children's hands often, especially before meals and before sleeping.
Ensure children wash their feet after playing barefoot outdoors.
Do not let children eat soil.
Children should play in areas covered in grass.

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