Lead Water Pipes: What Every Toronto Homeowner Should Know

It sounds just about as scary as it is: lead in the drinking water. It’s something that, these days, we intuitively know is wrong, but there was a time in the not-so-distant past that lead water pipes were the norm. It’s an issue that experienced plumbers in Toronto have been dealing with for decades, but it recently got a signal boost a few years ago when the Toronto Star ran an investigative piece on it.

In the piece, the Star obtained data from 15,000 water tap samples between 2008 and 2014 and found that 13 percent of Toronto households tested for unsafe levels of lead. In some cases, the maximum acceptable leadconcentrations were exceeded by more than 2,000times. That’s more than an eighth of Toronto households exposed to a dangerous toxin, some of them to an incredibly hazardous degree.

Naturally, the homeowners that read the article were outraged, and many did something about it. In the intervening years, we at Mister Plumber have been instrumental in replacing old lead pipes (we replaced them before the article as well). But we figured we would use this blog to bring attention to the problem once again, since there are still many Toronto homes whose water is still lead contaminated.

In this post, we’ll look at the history of lead pipes in Toronto, as well as the hazards these pipes pose. Finally, we will discuss what you can do to solve the problem, and how the City of Toronto can help.

The History

The history of lead in plumbing is a long one, dating all the way back to Roman times when the Empire was supplied their water by lead pipes. It was so important to plumbing, in fact, that it’s even where we got the word from – “lead” in Latin is “plumb”, which is where we get the wordplumber.

But there is evidence that lead poisoning might have even been the reason for the fall of Rome, as this Washington Post article explains. That being the case, it’s incredible that a couple thousand years later, people still hadn’t learned their lesson about lead.

Many houses in Toronto built prior to the 1950s have lead pipes underground that supply clean drinking water to the house. Lead was widely used in plumbing because its unique properties made it ideal for underground fitting – it is soft metal and can be bent without kinking, meaning that it can be manoeuvred and manipulated easily, and that shifting soil won’t beak it.

The only problem is that, as the lead in the pipe corrodes, it enters the drinking water. The corrosion can happen swiftly, causing the pipes to exceed safe PPB (parts per billion) lead levels (though it is also worth noting that no level of lead is safe for children). If you suspect you have lead pipes, get in touch with our expert plumbers immediately.

The Hazard

Nowadays, it has been proven scientifically that this heavy metal can cause health issues in humans –, especially children. Lead affects the nervous system and brain and can cause serious developmental problems for fetuses, babies and children under six. It is also hazardous to adults, building up in the system over time, causing fatigue, memory loss, high blood pressure and a whole host of other problems.

For more information on the serious, deleterious effects of lead in both children and adults, we recommend you take a look at theWorld Health Organization’s page on the subject. They state that there is no safe level of lead exposure.

The Solution

Another safe metal that can be used underground is soft temper copper. It has similar advantageous properties to lead, like bending under soil pressure without harming itself, only without the harmful effects. It’s the standard underground piping that we at Mister Plumber use, for its agility as well as its long-lasting qualities.

Another great thing about copper is that it is sold as a coil in 66- and 100-foot lines, which means that the private portion of a water service can be done with one piece of pipe, where one end is connected to cityside and the other end has a soldering connection with the main shut off valve in the house. No need for multiple joints, which could be susceptible to root damage. You can learn about pipe lining services and what they can do for you at this link.

The new copper pipe that we use at Mister Plumber is bigger in size, as new Ontario plumbing codes state that the minimum size for one family dwelling must be at least 3/4” inside diameter, to aid in better water pressure (among other reasons). So you might find that a welcome by-product of replacing your old lead pipes is better water pressure and a more satisfying morning shower.

How We Can Help

The City of Toronto encourages everyone who has old lead pipes to upgrade with copper within their private property, at which point the city side is upgraded by Toronto Water at no cost to the homeowner. It is a highly recommended replacement, and one that the City is doing in order to keep homeowners – especially those with young children – safe from the effects of lead.

Mister Plumber is a leading licensed contractor in Toronto for residential underground pipe replacement. We use modern equipment, like air compressors, and one of the newest and keep homeowners models of torpedo, which allows us to do the work within one day. All estimates are provided by master licensed plumbers, who have over 15 years of experience in the GTA.

There should be no reason in 2019 for lead pipes in your property, especially given the great work Toronto Star did a few years again uncovering the problem. If your house is older, or you suspect that it has lead piping, call Mister Plumber immediately and we will replace those old lead pipes today with safe, long-lasting copper pipes.

If the fall of Rome taught us anything, it’s that we have to pay proper attention to the materials we use in our plumbing. Let’s not let this mistake continue any longer than it has to – call us today and let’s make sure lead is dead in Toronto!