How to recognize a lead water service line

Last updated October 5, 2021
Reading time: 3 min

Would you like to know if you have a lead water service line? There are a few different ways to find out. Locate your service line and follow our tips to learn how to recognize a lead pipe.

Some Montréal buildings have lead water service lines. After long periods of stagnation, the lead can dissolve into the water, causing tap water to exceed the regulatory threshold for lead concentration, which is a concern for health.  

In this article, we will explain some ways that you can recognize a lead water service line.

Types of buildings that are affected

The city conducted a statistical survey in 2006 that showed that the buildings that were the most likely to have a lead service line are buildings with eight dwellings or fewer built before 1970 and wartime housing built in the 1940s and 50s.

The city estimates that lead service lines affect 16 of its 19 boroughs (lead service lines are unlikely to be found in L’Île-Bizard–Sainte-Geneviève, Pierrefonds-Roxboro and  Saint-Léonard).

Montréal is not an isolated case. According to the report on drinking water in Québec published by the Ministère de l’Environnement et de la Lutte contre les changements climatiques, 55 municipalities reported exceeding the Québec lead standard in 2014

Check your water service line

First, do you know what a water service line is? It’s a pipe with a small diameter (usually less than two inches) that links the building to the water main underneath the street. It is usually made of lead or copper and is composed of two sections: One which belongs to the city and the other which belongs to the building owner (from the inside of the building to the property line). Both sections may be made of lead, but it’s also possible that the section which belongs to the property owner is made of lead while the city’s section isn’t, and vice versa.

Map of lead service lines

L’une des premières choses à faire est de consulter la carte interactive dédiée. Elle donne de bonnes indications sur la présence d’entrées d’eau en plomb dans la ville, en fonction de votre adresse

Check your service line

To check your service line yourself, you just need to find the water shutoff valve in your building and have a look at the pipe. If it is lead:

  • It will be grey
  • If you strike it, it will not resonate
  • If you scratch it, you will see metallic marks
  • It will not attract a magnet

Check out this explanatory video to help you out:

If you are unable to check your service line yourself, just contact the building owner or a plumber. 

Even if the drinking water service line in your home isn’t made of lead, an underground portion may be. The only way to know is to have the water screened. In addition to the service line, other sources of lead may exist in your plumbing, such as soldering, taps and accessories.

Screening by the city

In 2010, the city implemented a rapid screening protocol, in collaboration with the  CRSNG Drinking Water Industrial Chair at the l’École Polytechnique de Montréal. A city representative (clearly identifiable with an official ID card and clothing with the city’s logo) screens the water in all buildings that could have a lead service line using an instrument that measures the level of lead in the water from your kitchen faucet (Palintest). This annual program takes place from June to October. Affected residents receive a notice informing them that an employee will come to screen the water in their home, after which they will receive the result, whether it is positive or negative. 

Please note that this screening confirms whether there is lead in your water, but is not a regulatory analysis carried out by a certified laboratory. The city can also visually inspect the excavation site when work is being done to replace the public portion of lead service lines on a street.

Anticipatory screening

If you live in a building that may have a lead service line, you can request lead screening, without waiting to receive a notice from the city.

What next?

Under By-law 20-030 governing connections to the public waterworks and sewer systems and stormwater management, replacing the private portion of your service line is required if it is made of lead or composed of a material that is or will be made of lead.

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