The Ontario Ministry of the Environment is releasing today data from tests of lead in drinking water in 36 municipalities. S. 11 of the Safe Drinking Water Act now requires municipalities to deliver safe drinking water “to the point where the [municipal] system is connected to a user’s plumbing system”, but not to the user’s tap. According to the Ontario Drinking Water Advisory Council:
Treated municipal drinking water in Ontario has been found to meet the Ontario’s Lead Standard. However, drinking water at household taps may exceed the Ontario Standard. The lead in drinking water can come from 3 sources:
• Municipally owned lead Service Lines in the distribution system and / or the privately owned lead Service Lines leading into the home
• Lead in solder used to connect copper plumbing pipes in homes
• Lead in brass fixtures in homes
Lead Service Lines (both the municipal and private sections) are the most common source of lead problems for homeowners.
According to the Council, municipalities can help protect residents from lead by adjusting pH and alkalinity at the treatment plant so that their water is less corrosive. This makes the water less likely to leach lead out of pipes and fixtures, and also prolongs the life of expensive infrastructure and household plumbing. pH and Alkalinity adjustments have markedly decreased household lead levels for the majority of houses over a period of several months.
If municipalities have the power to protect the health of their residents in this way, could this develop into a legal duty to do so? It’s certainly possible.