Colleen Roberts

Lead in Drinking Water Guidelines for British Columbia FAQ

By Colleen Roberts •  Updated: 06/08/22 •  14 min read
Lead in Drinking Water

Understanding Lead in Drinking Water

Many people question lead in drinking water in British Columbia. Lead is found to occur in nature and as a result of human activities but in nature lead is typically not found free in it’s pure form, it’s contained in ores with other metals — the most abundant one in the Earth’s crust being galena (PbS). Natural formations of lead occurs by radioactive decay of uranium and thorium through radon (222Rn).

Four stable isotopes are known, 204Pb, 206Pb, 207Pb and 208Pb, the first three of which are used for the estimation of the age of rocks. Lead compounds exist mainly in +2 or +4 oxidation states, the former being more common.



How Does Tap Water Become Contaminated with Lead?

As explained Lead (Pb) is naturally occurring in bedrock ore and from some human activities, but lead is not typically detected in source water as a result.

Really, the primary source of lead found in drinking water in British Columbia is lead that is leached into our drinking water from plumbing such as water mains, pipes, solder, water faucets, pipe fittings, and galvanized liners installed in older water wells and even old water well pumping systems in British Columbia with water pumps installed and suspended on galvanized steel pipe with the old fittings and pitiless adapters that contain lead.

Water Pipes May Contain Lead in Older Homes in British Columbia


What Happens When Lead Gets into Water?

The amount of lead that will dissolve into drinking water will largely depend on the chemistry of a source water such as pH, alkalinity, water temperature, water hardness, length of water pipe, and the amount of time that water is in contact with a contaminated material such as a water pipe.

Corrosive water is a naturally occurring water condition often referred to as “aggressive water.” Aggressive water dissolves materials that it comes into contact with and can become very problematic sometime causing health related issues and at it’s worst corrosive water can cause holes in water pipes to develop over time.

How can corrosive water possible cause health related problems? In water systems containing metal from pipes to fitting etc. aggressive water has the ability to break down metal allowing copper, lead or other metals to dissolve into water.


Lead Test Kit

LEAD AND COPPER WATER TEST

Live in a home built before 1986 or an area served by old infrastructure?

Have young children or other vulnerable individuals in your home?

“ Lead and copper are often found in drinking water in older buildings. They can enter water from distribution lines or on-premise plumbing. Lab testing is important, because these metals become dangerous at levels far below what test strips detect. “

We ship you everything you need to test you drinking water for lead, including a complete guide on how to collect your sample.


Corrosion from Plumbing Systems

Corrosion of lead from plumbing systems is more of a concern to the homeowner since it’s deemed a significant health hazard even in the smallest of amount of lead.  Lead contaminated water will leave no visual indication and has no obvious taste or odor in drinking water.

Elevated copper in our bodies may cause stomach and intestinal discomfort such as nausea, vomiting, diarrhea and cramping of the stomach .

However, lead is much more of a concern over copper, exposure to lead has been linked to health problems in both children and adults.

Lead does accumulate and store in the body until it reaches toxic levels. It can be absorbed through the digestive tract and lungs and is carried by the blood throughout the body. The severity of the effects of lead poisoning varies and will depend on the concentration of lead in the body.

Home Water Test

LEAD WATER TEST KIT

Lead Drinking Water Test Kit for Municipal Tap or Well Water – Simple Testing Strips for Lead Copper Bacteria, Nitrates, Chlorine and More. If you just want a simple water testing solution these kits are great.

Fraser Valley – Mainland, Vancouver Island, Gulf Islands, Thompson – Okanagan, North Thompson, Kootenays, Cariboo Chilcotin, North Coast, Nechako & Northeast BC


Lead in Drinking Water
Canadian Drinking Water Guidelines

Health Canada Lead in Drinking Water Categories


1. Canadian Maximum Acceptable Concentrations MAC

Lead in Drinking Water in British Columbia – Canadian Maximum Acceptable Concentrations (MAC) 0.005 mg/L are based upon potential adverse health effects but, water test results that exceed 0.005 mg/L do not necessarily indicate any immediate health problem.  This is because whenever possible MACs are developed to be low enough that years of exposure at this level would still only increase the health risk slightly.

However, corrective actions should be taken if water test results exceed the MAC in order to remove any potential for increased health risk.

2. Aesthetic Objectives (AO)

Corrective actions are recommended if water test results exceed the AO but may not be necessary.

3. What is the Safe Acceptable Lead Levels in Water in British Columbia?

Aesthetic Objectives (AO) are not based upon health effects, but water test results that exceed these levels may indicate that the drinking water could have objectionable taste, odour, appearance or other factors including microbiological concerns such as viruses, bacteria and protozoa.

Maximum Acceptable Concentration for Drinking Water in Canada = 0.005 mg/L  according to the new reporting limit for lead for the Canadian Drinking Water Quality Guidelines update as of April 2019.

Lead in drinking water has no taste, smell, or color. It can only be detected through a chemical water test for lead.

The Guidelines for Canadian Drinking Water Quality set a (MAC) maximum acceptable concentration of  0.005 mg/L (5 parts per billion) for total lead in drinking water, measured at the tap. Every effort should be made to maintain acceptable lead levels in drinking water in British Columbia.

NOTE: To help understand these concentrations – One part per billion (ppb) is like one second in 32 years, or one penny in $10 million. So our example would be 5 ppb is like 5 pennies in $10 million.

Lead dissolved in water has no taste, smell, or colour. It can only be detected through a chemical test.

Lead in drinking water in British Columbia can cause a variety of adverse health problems. Children, infants, and unborn children are more adversely affected by lead exposure because their bodies absorb lead easier than adults.

A child’s brain and nervous system is known to be more sensitive to the effects of lead than older children and adults.

Child Exposure to Lead in BC – Health Effects May Include:

  • Damage to the brain and nervous system
  • Delays in physical and mental development
  • Behaviour and learning disabilities
  • Hearing disorders

Health Effects for Adults Exposed to Lead that Exceeds the Canadian Drinking Water Guidelines May Include:

  • Increased blood pressure
  • Anemia
  • Nerve disorders
  • Muscle & joint pain
  • Irritability
  • Kidney damage
  • Digestive problems
  • Memory loss
  • Fatigue
  • Headaches

Exposure to lead in drinking water in British Columbia can affect the brain development of babies and young children. Lead exposure may cause other health problems with heart, kidney, and reproductive health in babies, children and adults.

Young children (under than 6 years in age) will have the highest risk for health effects because they’re still developing. A child absorb lead easier and faster than adults.

Babies whose formula or other beverages are mixed with tap water are at risk of being exposed to lead because the formula or juice will typically contains 40% to 60% water. The water that older children and adults consume only contains maybe 10% to 20% of their intake because they ingest far more solids than an infant.

Important: Do not drink water from the hot water faucet or use hot water tap to mix with baby formula because heated water can contain higher concentrations of lead.

Pregnant women can pass lead to their unborn children. Lead can be present in breast milk, it’s vital for breastfeeding mothers to reduce all lead exposure and should consume filtered water or bottled water.

If you’re pregnant or have children younger than 6 years-old, see your doctor if your drinking water exceeds the Canadian MAC for lead in drinking water in British Columbia or you have any concern about lead exposure.

The lead risk to human health is only through the ingestion of lead such as drinking, cooking, brushing of teeth, etc. Lead levels in water > 0.005 mg/L is acceptable for showers, baths, handwashing, dishwashing, and general cleaning uses.

Lead Water Test Kits - Drinking Water

How to Test for Lead in Drinking Water

It can be important to test your water on a regular basis to ensure that it meets the standard chemical parameters, including lead. Guidelines for Canadian Drinking Water Quality sets out parameters of substances that may be found in drinking water.

The risk to human health is only through the ingestion of lead such as drinking, cooking, brushing of teeth, etc. Lead concentration in water exceeding > 0.005 mg/L is acceptable for showers, baths, handwashing, dishwashing, and general domestic purposes.

Lead Water Test Kits Makes Testing Easy!

Water testing in British Columbia is not complicated, there are lots of excellent accredited labs throughout the province.  Most water test kits for standard chemical parameters in BC will include water testing for lead.  The Guidelines for Canadian Drinking Water Quality sets out parameters of substances that may be found in drinking water.

If you do not wish to do a comprehensive water test with a accredited lab then a simple water test kit can be purchased for testing lead in your drinking water but we do have a FAQ for testing your drinking water for lead and other possible contaminates.

Lead Water Testing FAQ

FAQ: Where Should My Water be Tested for Lead?

Whether you are testing well water for lead or city water for lead all water test kits for lead in British Columbia are available and testing should be conducted by an accredited provincial water testing laboratory.  Accredited water testing laboratories serving the province will have water test kits for lead available.

If you choose to not use a water testing lab in BC then there is a simple lead water test kit available with excellent reviews. The nice thing about having a water test kit is you can test your water for lead often and it’s definitely cost effective, I certainly think these kits are great when using them as indicators. But, if you do have any reason to suspect that there is possibly lead in your drinking water I would still recommend using a certified water testing lab… at least initially.

FAQ: Should I Test My Well Water for Lead?

If your water is drawn from a private water well in British Columbia it’s advisable get two water test kits for lead. The first water test lead kit sample should be drawn from the kitchen tap typically. If you chose to do a second sample, take a raw water sample from the water well before the water enters the home or building. Hopefully this will help determine if there is lead in the well water and if it’s actually present in the groundwater or if the plumbing pipe or fittings is responsible for the lead contamination issue.

FAQ: Should I Test My City Water for Lead?

  1. If testing the city water supply for lead one water test lead kit is required should be collected prior to flushing the water (running the tap for at least two minutes)
  2. A second separate water sample for lead should be collected after flushing the water line.

FAQ: When Should a Water Sample for Lead be Taken?

Taking the first sample in the morning after the water has been in contact with the water pipe for an extended period may be ideal then the second sample as described.

Carefully use the special water sampling bottles provided in the water test kit. Follow water testing instructions for lead to ensure proper water sampling procedures, not following proper water testing procedure for lead may cause the water analysis report to be false or fail for some water parameters.

FAQ: How to Purchase a Lead Water Test Kit?

For more information on water test kits for lead in drinking water anywhere in British Columbia,  please visit.   The cost of testing water for lead will vary depending on the scope and the number of parameters being tested, if you have not been testing your water regularly you may want to get a

FAQ: What is the Best Way to Remove Lead from Drinking Water?

Once a water sample has been submitted to a British Columbia water testing lab and you’re waiting for the water test report results (typically emailed), and you are concerned then you might want to consume an alternate source of water for drinking, food washing, cooking, and teeth brushing until you get the results.

If elevated lead is detected >0.005 mg/L in your first lead water test, it’s imperative to identify the source of the lead.

Water lines containing lead were commonly installed in homes and drinking water systems in many countries, including Canada. Widespread installation of lead water pipes occurred in Canada until 1975 when lead was finally banned by revising the National Plumbing Code of Canada.

Additionally, the use of solder containing lead for new plumbing and in repairs to plumbing continued until 1986. As a result, plumbing and distribution pipes and fittings can can still be an important source of lead in tap water of homes built prior to the 1990s. Many older homes and buildings in Canada may still contain lead materials.

Homeowners should also check the waterline that brings water into the home, sometimes located in the basement or crawlspace, close to the water meter. If it’s a greyish-black and scores easily when scraped with a sharp object, it could very possibly contain lead.

If the source of lead in water is from the corrosion of lead containing plumbing such as pipes & fittings etc., consider the following options:

  1. Remove the source of plumbing materials contain lead.
  2. Flush water faucets for at leas 5 minutes or until the tap water runs as cold as possible before using the water for drinking, cooking, or teeth.
  3. Important to not use hot water from the tap for drinking, cooking, or mixing with baby formula.
  4. Adjust pH of the water (typically this is a point-of-entry water treatment system) once the PH increased the water will be less aggressive.
  5. Only install water treatment systems that are designed to meet your water chemistry requirements to reduce the lead in your water
  6. Use an alternative water source, such as bottled water or another water that is safe to drink.

FAQ: Can Lead be Filtered Out of Water?

Lead in water cannot be reduced or removed from water by boiling. In fact, boiling lead contaminated water might possibly increase the concentration of lead.

If the groundwater source is found to be contaminated with lead prior to entering the home, flushing the faucet will not be effective. Consider the following water treatment systems to effectively reduce lead levels:

  • Cation exchange
  • Distillation
  • Reverse osmosis
  • Lead water treatment system with certification NSF Standard No. 53 for reduction of lead in drinking water

Purchase a water treatment system or water filtration system that has been certified to meet the current NSF standards (National Sanitation Foundation) for lead reduction in drinking water.

NSF International is an accredited, independent third-party certification body that tests and certifies products to verify they meet these public health and safety standards. Home water treatment systems and that meet these standards bear the NSF mark. NSF International is a non-profit, non-governmental organization that sets health and safety standards for manufacturers in 80 countries around the world.

Once a water treatment system or water filtration system for lead removal has been installed, re-test your water to ensure the water treatment system is performing effectively. On a more periodic but regular basis water samples should be tested for lead just to ensure the ongoing safety of your drinking water.

It’s crucial to maintain the lead removal water treatment system according to the instructions of your local water treatment expert to ensure safe and long-term supply of drinking water.

For more information on the best water treatment system for lead contaminated water contact your local water treatment expert located in your community.

Water treatment system should not be purchased online, they often require the expertise of a local professional with significant experience in the industry such as design, installation and service when required.

Are Water Softeners Effective for Lead Removal?
What is the PH of Your Water?

Water Softener for Lead Removal?

If the pH of lead contaminated water is below 7, cation exchange will typically remove lead.

If the pH of the lead contaminated water is above 7, the dissolved lead might be in a form that cannot be easily removed using by using a water softener or cation exchange. This may affect the efficiency of your water treatment system.

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