- After news of lead in Montreal water broke recently, I became increasingly worried about what was coming out of the taps in my apartment.
- In addition to likely having a lead service entrance in my building, I'd been seeing this frightful yellow stuff come out of my taps for months.
- I called the city to see what tenants can do about their weird water in Montreal... Spoiler alert: there's not much.
So, like most people in the city, I had a moment a couple of weeks ago where I wondered very seriously if I had lead pipes in my building, and if I'd been consuming lead from Montreal water, unknowingly, the whole time I've lived here. In fact, I've worried about the quality of the water in my apartment for a long time and the photos above probably make it clear (pun intended) why I've been purchasing and drinking from 5 gallon water jugs for the better part of the past year.
When reading about the lead pipes in Montreal, and the issue with high levels of lead in drinking water across Canada, I noticed that there was lots of advice for homeowners, but nothing for tenants.
If I was a homeowner, I would be responsible for replacing the private part of the water service line and the city would soon replace the publicly-owned part of the pipe - and that's the action plan the city has in place.
But for someone who lives in a building they don't own, what am I supposed to do? How do I know that my landlord is taking care of the issue and, even if they are, what can I do to keep myself healthy in the meantime?
I reached out to 311 and also spoke with a representative from the City of Montreal to find out more about what tenants can do if they think (or know) that they have a lead service entrance pipe in their building that is contaminating their drinking water.
Oh, and I was sure to ask about my weird yellow water, too.
The first thing that tenants can do, like anyone living in Montreal, homeowner or otherwise, is to check if the city already believes you have a lead service entrance on a lot at your address.
The city believes that 16 of the 19 boroughs in Montreal are affected by lead service lines (L’Île-Bizard–Sainte-Geneviève, Pierrefonds-Roxboro and Saint-Léonard are the lucky ones).
They also believe that buildings of 8 units or less, built before 1970, have a "50% probability" of being furnished with lead service lines.
Homeowners are responsible for replacing the part of the service line marked as "section privée" above, at their expense, and the city will replace the "section publique" half.
The city will also be coming around to check dwellings for water quality and to compile all the buildings that will need work. If, when the city arrives, the homeowner has not replaced their half of the service line, the city will do it all at once, and charge the homeowner for the work.
When I went to the city's website to look up my place, I was told, "It is possible that there is at least one lead service entrance on the lot at this address."
So I read everything they suggested: use a water filter of some kind (or continue buying bottled water as I had been doing for over a year thanks to the weird yellow colour that would come out, seen below).
The city is only providing water filters to pregnant women and families with a child under the age of 6 if they are low-income and make less than $17,000 a year.
Your landlord is not responsible for providing you with a filter, either.
So, the city suggests letting the water "run for a few minutes after it becomes cold" and to "always use cold water to cook."
This made me wonder... should I be washing my dishes with cold water? (Apparently, no, we don't have to worry about contaminated water when washing dishes... So, save your filtered H2O for drinking.)
The city is quick to note that boiling water that is contaminated with lead does nothing to help the situation - in fact, the CDC explains that because water evaporates as it is boiled, you run the risk of actually increasing the lead concentration in the water by boiling it.
So then, I decided to call 311 and speak to someone... It was impossible to find a water quality test kit at any of the stores around the city (as it seems testing for lead isn't that common with at-home kits) and I had to know if there was something really wrong with my water.
I mean, it's been coming out yellow forever.
I always assumed that we had old pipes in the building and this was causing the discolouration of our tap water. Older pipes are often made of iron, which can colour the water when oxidized, and then it stands the chance of being a lot worse if water has had a chance to get stagnant in the pipes.
But now I was worrying that this yellow colour was perhaps a lot more sinister than just stagnation...
The water seen above was after 2 weeks without using the tap, as we were out of town.
When I sent these photos to the city, they said it had nothing to do with lead pipes and was likely what I had thought all along - stagnant water in old iron pipes.
So, thus far, despite likely having lead pipes, and definitely having old pipes that produced this delicious yellow substance that I'm hesitant to call water, the city had little help for me as a tenant.
I couldn't help feeling like... Why should I trust the tap water in Montreal at all?
I've always believed Canada had fantastic, clean tap water - but what is that worth if all the pipes delivering it are old, rusty and potentially made of lead?
I was unable to access the service pipe on my property to do the tests above, and screenings won't begin until next May, to be carried out over the summer until October 2020.
Only once the city has screened my building and confirmed that there is a lead service entrance will I be eligible for a filtration device.
Until then, it looks like I'm lugging home that 5-gallon jug.
And when I'm out and about in the city?
Well, forget it. I'll never drink tap water in Montreal again.
To learn more about the City of Montreal's action plan in regards to lead pipes across the city, head to their website here.