Drinking Water and Lead

The purpose of this Fact Sheet is to provide PUC Customers in Sault Ste. Marie with information about lead in tap water. 

Sault Ste. Marie’s drinking water comes from both surface water and groundwater sources.  Lake Superior water is drawn at Gros Cap and groundwater is drawn from four well stations supplied by two separate aquifers. 

Lake Superior water is pumped through underground pipes to the Boniferro Water Treatment Plant where it is filtered and disinfected prior to being pumped to Sault Ste. Marie watermains.  Groundwater is treated at each well site before being pumped into the distribution system.  Source water is tested for lead annually at each point of supply and is typically at levels too low to detect, therefore well within the Ontario Drinking Water Standards. 

Treated water flows through watermains under Sault Ste. Marie’s streets, and then through water service pipes which connect to each building. The public portion of the water service pipe runs from the watermain under the street to the property line that separates the road right of way (public property) from private property. The private portion of the water service runs from the property line into your house, ending at the water meter.


Image credit: City of London

Sources of lead in tapwater are usually limited to household plumbing such as brass in plumbing fixtures, from solder used prior to 1990, and from water service pipes made of lead or lead alloy. Lead was also used to seal joints in old cast iron mains.  In Sault Ste. Marie, lead water services were found to have been installed primarily from 1943 to 1948, following a shortage of copper as a result of the Second Word War and are believed to be the primary cause when lead is found during tap water testing. 

The Province of Ontario regulates municipal drinking water systems and establishes regulations and standards for safe drinking water and the protection of public health.  The Province also provides guidance if you have a lead service line, including flushing your tab for at least 5 minutes and using filters certified for lead reduction.  For a list of frequently asked questions and answers regarding lead and drinking water, please refer to this Ministry of Environment.

The Ontario Drinking Water Standard for lead is 10 micrograms per litre.

The water flowing through Sault Ste. Marie’s Distribution System has a very low level of lead; normally less than 1 microgram per liter. This is typical of the supply to most Sault Ste. Marie homes.  If however, water travels through a lead pipe between the watermain and the house, it has the opportunity to pick up trace amounts of lead from the interior surface of that pipe.  Lead presents a health concern for children six years of age and under, and for pregnant mothers.  For more information on the health effects of lead, contact Algoma Public Health at (705) 942-4646 or visit online at www.algomapublichealth.com.

In Sault Ste. Marie, PUC does free lead testing in homes with lead service lines.  Since 2007, PUC has tested more than 2,000 samples for lead. PUC targeted homes believed to have lead service lines.  Most of the houses sampled met the Ontario Drinking Water Standards.   However, some houses that had lead service pipes were found to have higher levels of lead, exceeding the 10 microgram per liter Standard.   PUC issued tap water filters certified for lead reduction at no charge to homes with results exceeding the standard until such time as the service can be replaced, or changes to water treatment processes can be shown to satisfactorily reduce lead concentrations.  PUC is presently evaluating possible long-term changes to the disinfection process to reduce lead uptake in the drinking water. 

PUC offers an interest-free loan to help homeowners replace their lead service lines.  When a homeowner replaces their lead service line, PUC replaces the public portion of the service at no charge to the homeowner.

If you think you may have a lead service line, please contact PUC at 705-759-6522 and ask for an appointment to have your service inspected or tested.

Check out the PUC and Algoma Public Health's What You Need To Know About Lead & Drinking Water brouchure.

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