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Open letter about lead in drinking water sparks research effort by local MP

Lead contamination remains a problem in many parts of the country, though it’s not an issue in the Region of Waterloo.

Kitchener-Conestoga MP Tim Louis is getting a crash course in water issues. [Damon Maclean]

While some of his colleagues wrote an open letter calling for Ottawa to invest $400 million to address the public health crisis, Kitchener-Conestoga MP Tim Louis says he wanted to look into the issue before signing on.

The open letter came in response to media-led studies that found high levels of lead in the water supplies of 11 cities, from Prince Rupert, B.C. to Montreal, with the signatories noting levels sometimes rival those of Flint, Michigan, which is the “epicenter” of the lead-contamination health crisis.

Louis notes he’s heard water-quality concerns expressed by constituents, though lead isn’t an identified issue in the region.

Nancy Kodousek, the region’s director of water services, notes the municipal side of the system is largely devoid of lead pipes, though individual homes may still have such materials.

“In general, drinking water leaving the Region of Waterloo’s drinking-water treatment facilities and travelling through the water transmission and distribution mains is lead-free.  Drinking water may come in contact with lead in the service lines (the water line on each property that connects the home to the municipal water main) or in water fixtures such as taps in the home,” she explained.

Louis stressed safe drinking water is a right. As a member of Parliament and a representative of the region, Louis said he plans to reach out and learn about the risks that exist in the area and how testing for safe water is conducted.

“It’s a shared responsibility between different levels of governments and all government levels agree that we need to reduce the exposure of lead.”

Louis praised the media-led collaboration that exposed the drinking water issues.

“This is why we need local journalism, because it’s stories like these that that get my office to go ‘OK, let’s reach out’ – I’ve reached out to Environment Canada and Infrastructure Canada, looking for the next steps and how we can [address the issue],” said Louis, adding he plans to reach out to mayors in the riding and the regional chair to inquire about the next steps forward in this nationwide battle.

Lead is no longer much of a concern in municipal water systems in the region, though rural communities with older homes and running water could be at a higher risk for contamination, especially since they’re no longer subject to inspections – the onus is on homeowners to check for lead fittings and replace them.

In Wellesley, the region both supplies the water and looks after the distribution system.

“Since 2011, the region-owned distribution systems in the Township of Wellesley qualified for plumbing exempt status. This exemption confirms that sampling the internal plumbing of people’s homes and businesses is no longer a requirement. The region is required to test the distribution system hydrants and blow-offs for pH and alkalinity twice per year and lead every third year (2020) in the distribution systems: Wellesley, St. Clements, Linwood and Heidelberg (Wellesley side),” explained Kodousek.

Woolwich gets its water from the region, but owns the distribution system, including all of the underground pipes and sewers. The township monitors lead in drinking water, with testing occuring every six months as per the Ministry of the Environment’s requirements.

The township also has a policy of replacing older water infrastructure as part of road reconstruction projects, a program that has seen most of the old lead services removed.

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