Drinking Water

Frequently Asked Questions: Lead Pipes & Drinking Water

Water Service Replacement Program

Faucet Filter Program

Lead Testing

Corrosion Control

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Where does lead in drinking water come from?

Lead does not exist in Toronto's source water, Lake Ontario, or in the water produced at Toronto's drinking water treatment plants. Lead in drinking water affects homes built before the mid-1950s when water service pipes delivering water from the street into each home were commonly made of lead. Lead was also used to solder pipes together before 1990. As these items corrode or break down lead can enter drinking water.  

How do I know if I have a lead water service pipe in my home?

The City of Toronto assumes that homes built prior to the mid-1950s have lead water service pipes, unless our records show otherwise. If your home was built between the mid-1950s and 1989, you likely don’t have a lead pipe, but there might be lead in some fixtures or the solder used to connect your pipes. Homes built after 1989 are unlikely to have lead water services or lead solder.

Apartment buildings and other multi-residential buildings with more than six units do not have lead water service pipes, regardless of the building's age. Lead is too soft to handle the pressure needed for these types of buildings.

A licensed plumber can determine if your water service pipe is made from lead or not. The City also offers free lead testing for those who live in an older home who are concerned about lead in drinking water. 

What should I do if I have a lead water service pipe?

To protect your health, Toronto Public Health recommends those with lead pipes take the following actions:

  • Install an end-of-tap water filter. Look for filters certified by the National Sanitation Foundation for lead removal and reduction. Install this filter on the tap you use most often for cooking or for water to drink.

  • If you have a baby at home: Breast mik is the healthiest option for feeding your baby. If you have made an informed decision to use formula, begin with cold filtered tap water, boil it, and then let it cool. Use within 30 minutes. You can also consider using ready-to-feed formula.

If you are unable to install a filter on the tap you use most often for drinking and cooking:

  • Flush your pipes. If water has not been used for over an hour, run the tap until it is very cold, and then let it run for at least 1 more minute. This will flush any standing water out of the pipes and will draw fresh water from the watermain.
  • Use cold water for cooking and drinking, even after flushing the pipes. Lead in pipes moves more readily into hot water than into cold water, so cold water is less likely to be contaminated.

Visit the Toronto Public Health website to learn more about lead in drinking water. 

How many lead service pipes are in the City of Toronto, and in what areas?

The City of Toronto had an estimated 65,000 lead water services prior to the implementation of the Lead Replacement Program in 2008. There are now an estimated 35,000 lead services remaining. Homes built before the mid-1950s may have lead water services connecting them to the water supply system. Homes of this age are typically found in the former municipalities of York, East York, Toronto, and the southern portions of Etobicoke and Scarborough. For homes built before the mid-1950s, Toronto Water assumes the water service is lead, unless our records show otherwise.

Is my drinking water safe?

Yes! Toronto Water ensures the safety of your drinking water by continuously testing it during and after treatment. In fact, Toronto Water conducts more tests than is required by the Ontario Drinking Water Standard and tests for many more substances than required. Drinking water samples are taken multiple times through the day to confirm the absence of bacteria.

Only necessary chemicals are used to treat tap water, including chlorine, to kill E.coli and other bacteria that may be present. A tiny (and harmless) amount of chlorine is left in the water to ensure its continued safety as it travels to you. If you are sensitive to the taste of chlorine, you can store water in an open-topped pitcher for a few hours before drinking to allow the chlorine to evaporate.

If there are any concerns about the quality of the water, Toronto's Medical Officer of Health and the Ministry of the Environment and Climate Change are immediately notified.

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Water Service Replacement

How many lead water services does the City replace each year?

Water service pipes are owned by the City and by the homeowner (see this diagram to learn more).

The City replaces lead services on City-owned property through one of the following: 

  • Capital Water Service Replacement Program – each year, the City will replace 3,000 substandard drinking water pipes, many of which will be lead.
  • Priority Lead Water Service Replacement Program - On average, the City replaces 1,500 pipes through this program.
  • Emergency Replacement – approximately 500 substandard drinking water pipes are replaced annually due to emergency reasons. This can include leaking or broken water service connections or pipes that have flow rates of less than 7 litres per minute. The majority of emergency repairs involve lead pipes.

When will my lead water service be replaced?

The City's Capital Water Service Replacement Program coordinates the replacement of lead water services in conjunction with other capital construction projects, subject to Council approved funding. Through this program the City-owned portion of all lead services will eventually be replaced over a multi-year period.

Visit the Capital Program webpage to see where the pipes have recently been replaced and what streets are slated for replacement in the near future.

Should you decide to replace the lead pipes on your private property, you can apply to have the City replace its side on a priority basis through the Priority Lead Water Service Replacement Program.

How is the Capital Water Service Replacement Program developed/prioritized?

The Capital Water Service Replacement Program is coordinated with upcoming capital construction projects, such as road, sewer or watermain reconstruction, or watermain structural lining. Capital construction projects are prioritized based on several factors, such as the age and condition of the City's water or sewer mains.

Why wasn't my lead water service replaced at the same time as my neighbour's?

If only a single neighbour's water service was replaced, it is likely their service was leaking or broken and had to be replaced on an emergency basis, or they applied for the Priority Lead Water Service Replacement Program.

I just received notice that the City's side of the water service pipe is being replaced. How will this impact my property?

To replace the water service the contractor will dig an access pit at the watermain (in the street) and a second access pit at the property line. Generally the service is installed between the two pits using a trench-less method (torpedo technique). The access pits and any other disturbances to the property will be restored to the original condition.

In general, the contractor will not need to enter your home, unless you arrange to replace your portion of the water service at the same time. The City is only responsible for the replacement of the portion from the watermain to the property line. See this diagram to learn more.

How will the area be restored following replacement of the City's water service? 

If the City's water service has been replaced, the construction area will be restored to property standards, with sod and/or asphalt as required. Interlocking bricks, flagstone, or other similar features may be removed but will be replaced during the restoration work. The contractor replacing the water service will do only temporary restoration. Permanent restoration work to City property will be made by Transportation Services within 18 to 24 months.

Can I request a larger water service?

The standard size for a single residential water service is 19 mm (3/4 inch). The exception is where the length of the service from the watermain to the building lot line exceeds 30 meters. Other services, such as commercial, institutional and industrial, are sized according to the intended use, subject to the City's approval.

The water service can be "upsized" to 25 mm (1 inch) for a $500 fee. If you are applying under the Priority Lead Water Service Replacement Program, please indicate on your application if you wish to upsize to a 25 mm service.Toronto Water staff will contact you with payment arrangements. If your water service is being replaced under the Capital Program, you must go in person to pay the $500 fee at the Toronto Water service counter.

If you are interested in upgrading to larger than 25 mm, you must pay the full cost of replacement, plus an additional 15% administration fee.

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Faucet Filter Program

Who should use a filter?

Toronto Public Health advises that homes with lead pipes that have children under the age of six (6) years old or pregnant women should use a NSF-053-certified filter because exposure to lead can be harmful to the developing brain.

Toronto Public Health also recommends using a NSF-053-certified filter:

  • after replacement of the water service as there may be a temporary increase in lead levels; and
  • if only one portion of the lead water service was replaced, until full replacement is completed.  

Which type of filter removes lead?

The National Sanitation Foundation (NSF) advises that filters certified as NSF-053 effectively reduce lead in water. The NSF certification logo should be visible on the packaging. These filters can remove up to 99 per cent of the lead. Only faucet-mounted, NSF-053 filters qualify for the City's Faucet Filter Rebate Program.

How do I apply for the Faucet Filter Rebate Program?

If you meet the eligibility requirements, you can download the application now. Or email leadpipes@toronto.ca to request a copy.

Are water filters recyclable?

Toronto Blue Box Recycling Program does not accept water filter cartridges at this time. While some manufacturers have operated their own recycling programs in the past, there are no such programs available at this time.

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Lead Testing

Is there a cost to getting my water tested for lead?

No. The Residential Lead Testing Program is a free service offered by the City to those who live in a home built before the mid-1950s.

How do I get a lead testing kit?

Residents must contact 311 to pre-register for a lead testing kit. Water testing kits can then be picked up and dropped off at one of six Toronto Public Health locations between 8:30 a.m. and 4:30 p.m., Monday to Friday. Learn more

My lead test result was greater than 10ppb.  What does that mean? What should I do?

The Ontario Drinking Water Quality Standard has set the limit of 10 ppb for lead. If your test result is above 10 ppb, you should immediately take precautions to protect your health, particularly if you are pregnant or have a child in the home that is younger than 6 years of age

If the lead test result is 10 ppb or less, and you live in an area built before the mid-1950s, unfortunately a low test result does not mean that lead levels in your water are low all the time.  It is still recommended that you replace your entire lead water service pipe as the best way to reduce your exposure to lead in drinking water and to protect your health.

Corrosion Control

What is corrosion control?

Mandated by the Ministry of the Environment and Climate Change, the City began implementing its Corrosion Control Plan in 2014 by adding a small amount of phosphate to the City's drinking water treatment process. Over the next two years, the phosphate will form a protective coating inside all pipes, which will reduce the potential for lead to enter drinking water. Learn more about the City's Corrosion Control Plan.  

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