The Trouble with Lead

Once upon a time, lead was added to paint to make the colours brighter and to help the paint last longer. Lead-based paints are washable and durable, and lead additives helped brighten the hues of some of the world’s greatest works of art in addition to covering the walls of homes everywhere. And then we learned this substance, once used in virtually every house built before the 1970s, was really harmful!

The trouble with lead is that it is everywhere. Even now, when we know how to look for it, have effective lead treatment strategies to make our homes safe again, and understand the damage lead can cause, new sources are turning up all over the place. It’s in the air we breathe, it’s in the water we drink, and it’s really bad for us.

Unsafe lead levels in Toronto drinking water

Much of the focusĀ on lead abatement has been on the safe removal of lead paint. Of course that’s an important consideration, but did you also know that lead was used extensively in plumbing pipes until the 1950s?

In fact, a recent article in the Toronto Star indicates that as many as 40,000 homes in Toronto may still have lead pipe water service from the city. But is that really a problem? YES! “Thirteen per cent of household water tests conducted in Toronto over the past six years showed unsafe levels of lead.” Given what we now know about the harmful effects of lead exposure in humans, especially children, these findings are alarming.

Effects of lead in the home

Thankfully, lead poisoning is rare in Canada. However, because lead is still so prevalent, many of the symptoms are often attributed to something else. They can include fatigue, insomnia, headache and digestive difficulties. We do know that the effects of lead are more pronounced and more damaging in children because their small bodies absorb lead more quickly and easily than adults.

What is being done about lead in the water?

The recent attention given to lead in Toronto’s water supply is already spurring political action in City Council. The city has been running an in initiative since 2011, the Lead in Drinking Water Mitigation Strategy, to help minimize the occurrence of lead in Toronto’s tap water. Steps in the program include:

  • Offering lead testing for Toronto residents, with priority service for those with homes built prior to 1950.
  • Measures to control corrosion which is leading to the breakdown of lead pipes and, ultimately, leading to an increase in lead in the drinking water supply.
  • Replacing thousands of lead water service pipes every year.

These are all positive steps, but they may take decades to fully implement. If you are one of the many affected Toronto residents, we know this recent news about the potential presence of lead in your drinking water is frightening. If you don’t want to wait for the city, private companies can help. Remember that replacing lead pipes in your home is important, and a job best handled by a company with extensive lead treatment experience.

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