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Water Stewardship Division

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Assessing Lead Levels in Tap Water

People are exposed to trace amounts of lead through air, soil, household dust, food, various consumer products, and drinking water.

While lead levels are extremely low in Manitoba’s public drinking water systems, lead can get into drinking water as it passes through distribution systems, service connections, and plumbing pipes in the home. See the fact sheet on Lead in Manitoba Water Supplies for more information.

A study was undertaken in 2012 to assess the lead levels in tap water in selected buildings and homes in Winnipeg, Brandon, Portage la Prairie, and Steinbach.

The study was conducted in the context of work going on at the national level related to lead in drinking water. In July 2011, Health Canada released a draft document for public consultation titled “Lead - State of the Science Report and Risk Management Strategy”.  The document concluded that additional measures to further reduce lead exposures are warranted and advised that Health Canada would be reviewing the national drinking water quality guideline for lead.  Information obtained from the study will be shared with Health Canada and used as background in the development of the new guideline.

The findings from the schools and the homes without lead service connections showed lead levels below the national drinking water guideline in almost all cases. Many homes with lead service connections where water had been sitting in the plumbing system or the service connection overnight had lead levels higher than the national drinking water quality guideline. In all cases, lead levels were significantly reduced after flushing and in most cases, dropped below the guideline after the lines were flushed for five minutes.

These results are not unexpected, and similar results have been found in cities in other provinces. Older homes, typically homes built before 1950, may have lead service connections. Lead levels in tap water from houses built after 1950 are usually much lower than in homes with lead service connections built before 1950. 

Homes built between 1950 and 1990 are unlikely to have lead service connections but may have lead solder or plumbing fixtures that contain lead that may increase lead in the tap water.  Homes built after 1990 rarely have a problem with lead in the tap water.