Lead is a substance that is naturally in soil, food, and air. Lead has many industrial uses and has been used in plumbing and water service lines since the late 1880s. Lead can leach into drinking water from lead service lines and plumbing, but most humans are exposed from other sources.
Over the last 30 years, the number of people exposed to lead has really decreased because of restrictions in using it as an additive in gas, paint, and solder. Lead hasn’t been used as an additive in gas since the early 1990s. Lead in paint was banned in the mid-1970s. Lead in solder used for tin cans and drinking water pipes has significantly decreased or it isn’t used at all.
Lead can get in water from water-mains, service lines, and household plumbing parts that contain lead (e.g., pipes, solder, fixtures). The most common source of lead is from lead pipes used to deliver water to homes built before 1960. These pipes were phased out in the late 1950s. Older homes (generally ones built before 1960) are more likely to have lead parts.
Being exposed to lead can affect the brain development of babies and young children. Lead exposure can also cause problems with heart, kidney, and reproductive health in babies, children and adults.
Young children (younger than 6 years old) have the highest risk for health effects because they’re still developing and they absorb lead easier than adults. Babies who have formula or juice prepared with tap water are at risk of being exposed because the water used makes up 40 to 60% of a baby’s intake. The water that older children and adults drink only makes up 10 to 20% of their intake.
Pregnant women can pass lead to their unborn babies. Lead can be present in breastmilk, so it’s important for breastfeeding women to lower lead exposure as much as they can.
If you live in a municipality, you can contact your municipality or water utility for further information.
If you have a private water system e.g. well, you may wish to contact AHS-EPH for advice and consultation. Water testing information is available at:
Babies, children younger than 6 years old, and pregnant women must
not drink the tap water without a water filtration device.
Breastfeeding is always the best choice for babies. However, it’s important for breastfeeding women to lower lead exposure as much as they can.
If you’re breastfeeding and your home has lead service pipes,
don’t use tap water without a water filtration device. It must meet the National Sanitation Foundation 053 guideline (NSF-053), American National Standards Institute (ANSI), Underwriters Laboratories (UL), or Water Quality Association (and Canadian chapter CWAQ) certification to remove lead.
Yes. You can use the water for all of these activities and you won’t be exposed to lead. Lead in water isn’t easily absorbed through the skin or mucous membranes.
It’s a good idea to run or flush your water lines for 1 minute
before using the water to drink or cook with when the water has been sitting in the pipes for longer than 6 hours. The water will feel cold to the touch when it has been flushed out. Only use cold water (not hot) from the tap to drink and cook with. Boiling the water does
not decrease the lead in it.
Yes. Alberta follows the Canadian Drinking Water Quality Guideline for lead of 5 micrograms per litre (0.005mg/L) or 5 parts per billion. This guideline is a more protective (conservative) estimate of how much lead in drinking water can contribute to a child’s total exposure to lead from all sources.
People are exposed to lead inside and outside. It‘s in the air, soil, dust, drinking water, food, and many other products. Older homes may have lead-based paint, and people can be exposed if they get paint chips or paint dust in their mouths. Young children can be exposed to lead if they get dirt or dust in their mouth from their hands or other objects.
For more information about your water service lines, call your water utility provider.
For information on
drinking water quality in Alberta, call Alberta Environment and Sustainable Resource Development at 780-427-2700 (dial 310-0000 first for toll-free access).
Current as of: July 18, 2019
Author: Environmental Public Health, Alberta Health Services
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