Fri | Dec 13, 2019

Lead found in some Canadian drinking water

Published:Monday | November 4, 2019 | 10:06 AM
In this July 21, 2019 photo, Florabela Cunha fills a glass of water from her kitchen faucet in Prince Rupert, British Columbia, Canada. (Mackenzie Lad/Institute for Investigative Journalism/Concordia University via AP)

MONTREAL (AP) — Hundreds of thousands of Canadians have been unwittingly exposed to high levels of lead in their drinking water, with contamination in several cities consistently higher than they ever were in Flint, Michigan, according to an investigation that tested drinking water in hundreds of homes and reviewed thousands more previously undisclosed results.

Residents in some homes in Montreal, a cosmopolitan city an hour north of the US-Canada border, and Regina, in the flat western prairies, are among those drinking and cooking with tap water with lead levels that exceed Canada’s federal guidelines.

The investigation found some schools and day care centres had lead levels so high that researchers noted it could impact children’s health. Exacerbating the problem, many water providers aren’t testing at all.

It wasn’t the Canadian government that exposed the scope of this public health concern.

A yearlong investigation by more than 120 journalists from nine universities and 10 media organisations, including The Associated Press and the Institute for Investigative Journalism at Concordia University in Montreal, collected test results that properly measure exposure to lead in 11 cities across Canada.

Out of 12,000 tests since 2014, one-third — 33% — exceeded the national safety guideline of 5 parts per billion; 18% exceeded the US limit of 15 ppb.

In a country that touts its clean, natural turquoise lakes, sparkling springs and rushing rivers, there are no national mandates to test drinking water for lead. And even if agencies do take a sample, residents are rarely informed of contamination.

“I’m surprised,” said Bruce Lanphear, a leading Canadian water safety researcher who studies the impacts of lead exposure on footsies and young children.

“These are quite high given the kind of attention that has been given to Flint, Michigan, as having such extreme problems. Even when I compare this to some of the other hotspots in the United States, like Newark, like Pittsburgh, the levels here are quite high.”

Many Canadians who had allowed journalists to sample their water were troubled when they came back with potentially dangerous lead levels.

Some private homeowners said they plan to stop drinking from the tap.

“It’s a little bit disturbing to see that there’s that much,” said Andrew Keddie, a retired professor who assumed his water was clean after replacing pipes years ago at his home in Edmonton, a city of almost one million in western Canada.

What he couldn’t do is replace public service lines delivering water to his house.

After learning his water lead levels tested at 28 ppb, Keddie said he was “concerned enough that we won’t be drinking and using this water.”

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