Water Testing for Lead

Ontario Regulation 243/07 outlines the requirements that school boards and child care centres need to take with respect to water flushing and sampling for lead. 

This legislation has been in effect since 2007 and has included an annual sampling schedule.  To enhance the safety requirements around drinking water at schools and child care centres, the Ministry has amended the legislation to increase the number of samples taken at each site. 

By January 2020, all drinking water fountains and faucets used for food preparation at all elementary schools and affiliated child care centres are required to be sampled; secondary schools are required to be completed by January 2022.

Ontario Drinking Water Standard

The Ontario drinking water quality standard for lead is 10 micrograms per litre (also written as 10 µg/L or as 0.010 milligrams per litre). This is based on a national guideline from Health Canada.

If a drinking water test result is above the provincial standard for lead, the Durham Region Health Department will provide instruction to the DDSB for corrective action to ensure the safety of our students.

Ontario Regulation 243/07 - Frequently Asked Questions

Why does the Ontario Government require childcare centres and schools to test drinking water for lead?
Young children are more vulnerable to the effects of lead because they absorb ingested lead more easily than adults, which can interfere with the development of their nervous systems. In population studies, exposure to lead has been associated with effects on learning capacity, intellectual development and behaviour.
What are the changes to flushing and sampling for lead that are affecting my school?

Since 2007, the Ontario government has been requiring child care centres and schools to flush the plumbing in their facilities and test their drinking water for lead.

New amendments to Ontario Regulation 243/07 that took effect July 1, 2017 requires lead testing within these facilities for all fixtures used to provide drinking water and/or prepare food or drink for children under 18.

What is a "drinking water fixture"?

A "drinking water fixture" refers to every drinking water fountain and every tap that is used to provide drinking water or to prepare food and/or drink for children under 18.

What is the drinking water quality standard for lead?

The Ontario drinking water quality standard for lead is 10 micrograms per litre. This standard is based on a national guideline set by Health Canada.

Why are child care centres and schools required to flush their plumbing? 

Flushing has been shown to effectively reduce lead levels in water at drinking water fixtures. By flushing plumbing and fixtures, water that may have come in contact with lead sources (i.e. plumbing) is replaced with fresh water. 

What happens if a child care centre or school finds it has lead in its drinking water above the standard for lead?

If a child care centre or school has a drinking water test result that is above the standard for lead, the local Medical Officer of Health will assign corrective actions to the facility and it is the facility’s responsibility to ensure those actions are immediately carried out. These actions could include increased flushing, replacing the fixture, installing a filter or other device that is certified for lead reduction, rendering the tap or fountain inaccessible to children by disconnecting or bagging, or any other measures as directed by the local Medical Officer or Health, until the issue is resolved. The Ministry of the Environment and Climate Change will follow up with the facility operator and local Medical Officer of Health if necessary. These local processes have been in place since 2007 and are working well.
What is the difference between standing and flushed sample? Why does MOECC require both?

A standing sample is reflective of the first draw of (stagnant) water sitting in the plumbing over night. A flushed sample is a running sample which reflects water quality after flushing the plumbing.

Flushing of plumbing has been proven to decrease the amount of lead in drinking water. Facilities are required to take samples of the drinking water from the drinking water source before and after they flush the plumbing. A comparison of the flushed sample results versus the standing sample results consistently shows that flushing significantly reduces lead in drinking water.

How can I find out the lead test results for my child’s school/child care centre?
All drinking water test results are shared with school administration/child care centre. If a school has a drinking water test result that is above the standard for lead, those results and corrective actions are available for review on the DDSB website (see below). If you have questions about any measures taken by your school to ensure the lead level safety of drinking water, contact your school administration or the DDSB Health and Safety Department. 

How does lead get into drinking water? 

Ontario’s surface and groundwater generally does not contain lead. If lead does occur naturally, the concentrations are typically extremely low and below the drinking water standard for lead. Where there are concentrations of lead in drinking water above the standard, the likely cause is from the lead pipes servicing the premises, lead solder used in the plumbing or fixtures containing high percentages of lead.

Lead pipe service connections have been used to deliver water from distribution pipes since the late 1800s. Older buildings (generally those built before the mid-1950s) are more likely to have lead connections. By 1990, the amount of lead in solder that could be used in drinking water plumbing was substantially reduced.

The amount of lead leaching into drinking water from these components depends largely on the chemical characteristics of the water. In certain circumstances, extended contact between standing water and the components can cause the lead to be released from the pipes. When the tap is turned on, water that has been standing in the pipes may have accumulated lead levels higher than Ontario’s standard for lead.

How can I get the water in my home tested for lead?

If you suspect that you may have lead materials in your service lines or lead in your plumbing and you wish to have your tap water tested, the Region of Durham has a provincially mandated lead monitoring program. Contact the Works Department at 1-800-372-1102 extension 3488.

Other Resources

Health Canada – Lead Information Package

Ontario Regulation 243/07

Durham Health – Facts about Lead in Drinking Water