Blog: Get the Lead Out! CELA’s Submission Addressing Removing Lead from Our Drinking Water

Blog posted by Jacqueline Wilson, Counsel

Lead in drinking water is an ongoing public health threat in Ontario. It is a priority at CELA because it disproportionately impacts the health of low-income children. There has been uneven and inequitable protection from the health impacts of lead across the province to date. We made legislative and policy recommendations to the Ministry of Environment, Conservation and Parks in October 2021, which are summarized as follows:

1- Lower the lead-in-drinking water standard to 5 μg/L

Ontario has proposed to lower the provincial lead standard of 10 μg/L to 5 μg/L. CELA urges the Ministry to lower the standard immediately. Health Canada recently lowered its federal drinking water guideline to 5 μg/L for lead because it had a significant impact on the blood lead levels of children, the most vulnerable population.

2- Remove lead service lines

The biggest remaining source of lead in drinking water is lead service lines. There has been slow and haphazard progress to remove lead service lines across the province. A clear, mandatory approach is needed.

CELA’s recommendation is to complete mapping of all lead service lines by 2025, removal of 75% of all lead service lines by 2030, and removal of 100% of all lead service lines by 2035.

A complication with removing lead service lines has been an understanding that the municipality is only responsible for one half of the lead service line, while the other half is owned by the property owner. Montreal has adopted a mandatory removal by-law which requires the owner to remove its portion of the line at the same time that the City does, with generous loan re-payment options. A mixed service line can actually worsen the lead-in-drinking water problem, so it is crucial to remove the whole line at the same time.

3- Financial Assistance

The new mandatory lead service line removal rules should be paired with financial assistance programs which are targeted at ensuring that low-income and vulnerable communities are not burdened with any additional expense they cannot afford. We recommend a provincial funding program that allows low-income people to access grants to replace lead service lines, and all non-eligible owners to receive generous loans for re-payment.

New rules need to be established to allow low-income tenants to access the program and to ensure property owners do not pass along the cost of the new service line to low-income tenants.

4- Other Recommendations

CELA has also made a series of other recommendations to improve notice and testing requirements while LSLs are being removed. In particular, public education efforts are required so that residents are aware if they are being exposed to lead and know how to remedy the problem. Mandatory notice to residents of a home with a lead service line should be required when home ownership changes, once a year until it is removed, and to each unit in a multi-unit residence.

CELA’s full recommendations can be found here.  For information on CELA’s “Get the Lead out of Drinking Water” campaign, visit our law reform page here.