Lead Services Q&A Backgrounder

We maintain modern drinking water systems that provide reliable and safe drinking water to 100,000 residents.

Drinking water in glass (JPG)Is our drinking water safe?

Water is drawn from the Red Deer River and is purified using a multi- barrier treatment process in combination with UV disinfection system at our water treatment plant. It is then distributed through a number of pumping stations, reservoirs and kilometers of water mains. During the year, over 25,000 water quality tests are performed on drinking water samples. The results have demonstrated that you are receiving high quality drinking water that meets or exceeds all federal and provincial standards.

Is there lead in the water? What is the acceptable level?

The drinking water leaving our treatment plant and in the distribution system is virtually lead free. However, lead may be present in household tap water due to its presence in the service connection or in household plumbing systems containing lead, including solder and brass fittings.

We began testing for lead within the distribution system in the Fall of 2009 and the average of our results is less than the method detection limit of 0.0005 mg/L, well within the Health Canada guidelines of 0.005 mg/L.

How does lead get into our water?

Lead enters drinking water as a result of corrosion over a long period of time. If standing water (ex. overnight) is in contact with lead materials for several hours, the water may accumulate lead levels that may become a concern.

The most common sources are:

  • Lead-based solder used to join copper pipe, faucets made of brass and chrome-plated brass, and in some cases, pipes made of lead that connect a home to the water main (service lines).
  • Lead paint and the contaminated dust and soil it generates are the leading source of lead exposure in older housing.

Lead has historically been used as a component of paint, piping, solder, brass, and as a gasoline additive.

Does the age of my home matter?

Many homes constructed before the early 1960s have lead water service lines. Both lead and copper piping were used up until this time when copper water service lines became the standard in the plumbing industry. Most residential lead services are 5/8” diameter. If your home has been renovated, the water service line may have been replaced with 3/4” water service, which would provide more consistent water pressure and higher flow rates.

Lead based solder can be another source of lead in drinking water. This type of solder was used for plumbing until the mid-to-late eighties.

Many homes built before the early 1960s used 5/8” diameter lead piping in their construction.

Here are the steps to check if your home has lead piping:

  1. Locate the water meter (usually found in the basement)
  2. Look at the pipe coming up through the basement floor into the bottom of the water meter
  3. Lead 
      • is grey;
      • does not echo if you gently strike it;
      • scratches easily;
      • leaves metallic marks when you rub the scratched area against paper.

Note: Service line piping can also be made of polyethylene (black) or polybutylene (black or blue).

Who is responsible for the lead pipes?

The Municipal Government Act makes you, the residential property owner, responsible for the water service connection on your property as well as the plumbing in your home. Typically, lead service connections are found in older homes built before the early 1960s. We are responsible for the service connection pipes between the property line and the water main in the street

What is the City doing about it?

Adjusting the Water Treatment

Unbalanced and corrosive water can cause lead leaching to occur in old pipes or pipes constructed using solder on fittings with high lead content. We reduce drinking water corrosivity by using sodium hydroxide to adjust the pH. Water that is more basic or alkaline will produce a protective scale which will coat the inside of the pipe minimize lead leaching.

Education and Awareness

The City provides public education and awareness programs to inform residents who may be affected by lead service pipes. A letter was delivered to all the homes in Red Deer built prior to the early 1960s informing residents of the potential health risks, pipe ID, and links for further information. Our website is another method that we use to communicate with residents regarding this important topic.

What is lead?

Lead is a bluish-grey soft malleable metal that is found in small amounts on earth’s outer layer. Since lead is highly resistant to corrosion and very malleable, it is used in the construction of piping to transport corrosive liquids, in building construction, lead-acid batteries, bullets and shot, weights, and is part of solder, pewter, fusible alloys and radiation shields.

Where is lead most commonly found?

Lead is present almost everywhere in nature. It can be found in air, soil, dust, drinking water, food and various consumer products. Lead can be taken in by the body through ingestion and/or inhalation.

How can I limit my exposure to lead?

If you are concerned about lead in your drinking water, take the following preventive steps to further limit possible exposure:

  • Flush standing water in pipes each morning by first flushing the toilet, washing your hands or letting the water run for five minutes or until it is cold to the touch. Flushing clears water from the plumbing and home service line to ensure the drinking water comes from the main service line.
  • Use cold water for drinking and cooking. Hot water dissolves more lead from plumbing. Boiling water DOES NOT remove lead.
  • Some home water treatment devices remove lead, but not all do. Before buying, check the various models and their specifications.
  • Participate in our study by checking to see if you have a lead water service line. Even if you do, it does not mean lead is in the water, but the potential for lead in the water exists.

How can I test my water for lead?

You cannot see, smell or taste lead in water. Laboratory testing at the tap is the only way to determine the lead levels in your home. Our goal is to try to test as many homes which have lead water services as we can, within our means and timeframe. Testing is recommended during warm water periods of July through September. Test results will take six to eight weeks to process.

You can also arrange for testing by an accredited and licensed private laboratory.

If my house was found to have lead service pipes and water samples have been taken, can I receive the results of the testing?

Yes, phone Environmental Services at 403-342-8750 to request your result. It will take 6 to 8 weeks after the samples are taken before we can provide the information to you. The individual results of testing will only be released to you, the homeowner.