A bombshell investigative news story broke last week that much of Canada’s drinking water has levels of lead higher than what is deemed safe for human consumption. The report was the result of a yearlong investigation by more than 120 journalists from ten media organizations and nine universities, including Concordia University’s Institute for Investigative Journalism.
The report found that hundreds of thousands of people in Canada may be consuming tap water with high levels of lead that is leaching from aging pipes and infrastructure.
The investigation found that the water generally leaves filtration plants free of lead, but becomes contaminated through lead piping in water service lines, as well as from plumbing fixtures that contain lead and lead solder.
The journalists measured the lead content in tap water in 11 cities across Canada. They found that, in 12,000 tests conducted by these cities since 2014, one-third of residences exceeded the national lead safety guideline of five parts-per-billion.
Municipal authorities across Canada admitted that they don’t know how many lead service lines are within their city limits because of inadequate record-keeping and the absence of legal requirements for some municipalities to test.
Through this investigation the journalists, with the help of residents who volunteered to assist in the study, were able to collect water samples from 260 older homes from across Canada. They sent the samples to accredited labs, and the results showed that 39 percent had lead levels exceeding five parts-per-billion.
The health risks associated with exposure to high levels of lead include damage to the prefrontal cortex of the brain, which can contribute to anti-social behavior and behavioral problems in children, and prenatal growth abnormalities. Lead exposure is also a risk factor for hypertension, chronic kidney disease and tremors in adults.
The results of this investigation has angered many, and rightfully so. In some cases the water in Canadian cities is comparable to that of Flint, Michigan. People are upset and want action.
Yet, there is a disappointing double standard at play here. Many Canadians who are just learning about the poor quality of their own drinking water have been shamefully unmoved by the drinking water problems that have plagued many First Nations communities for decades.
Today, there are 57 long-term drinking water advisories on First Nations reserves across Canada. Earlier this year, the community of Attawapiskat declared a water emergency, as that community’s water supply was so full of contaminants that community members had to limit their time in the shower.
During the recent federal election campaign, NDP leader Jagmeet Singh made clean drinking water in First Nations communities an election issue.
“There’s no excuse in 2019, with the wealth we have as a nation, with the technology we have as a country, that we cannot clean this water, ensure that all community have clean drinking water,” Singh said from the Grassy Narrows First Nation, just last month.
Many Canadians were unconcerned about the quality of the drinking water consumed by First Nations people as long as they thought that their water was clean and safe. Maybe they will wake up to the reality endured by indigenous people across Canada now that they know differently.
We can but hope.