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The Effects of Lead in Drinking Water, and a Few Recent Examples

Exposure to lead has long been understood to have serious impacts on human health.

Ingesting lead can have a wide range of effects including: learning problems, increased blood pressure, kidney disorders, stunted growth and developmental delays. Lead can enter the human bloodstream a number of ways; inhaling small particles of lead-based paint or drinking water that contains lead are two examples. Of late, more and more cities are coming to realize the water they are supplying to residents may, in fact, contain dangerous concentrations of the mineral.

Lead in municipal water piping systems is usually the result of lead pipes or components (fitting or valves, for example) corroding over time due to chemical reactions with water. How widespread is the problem? Based on media coverage over the past several years, it appears that dealing with lead-contaminated drinking water is an issue that many North American municipalities share.


Noteworthy cases of lead contamination in municipal water supplies that have garnered a lot of attention over the last five years:

  • Flint, Michigan – In what has become a landmark lead contamination case, problems with the city’s water supply started to come to light in 2014. The ensuing health crisis lead to a massive effort to replace lead piping and an ongoing legal firestorm that local, state and federal officials will be embroiled in for years to come.
  • Montreal, Quebec – Recently released results from thousands of water tests and a follow up investigation by several news outlets seem to indicate that Montreal may have a lead contamination problem even greater than Flint’s. The city has taken several steps to address the problem, including offering residents free water filters and forming a plan to replace all lead service lines. It’s a huge undertaking, though, and city officials are forecasting that the project will not be completed until 2030. Critics argue that the city ignored warnings and refused to institute controls that would have slowed pipe corrosion and the subsequent release of lead into the system.
  • Newark, New Jersey – In similar fashion to Montreal, tests pointed to consistently high levels of lead in drinking water samples. Inadequate anti-corrosion practices and aging infrastructure are held up as the likely causes. Concerned citizen groups are expressing frustration because they say the problem has been ongoing for years and is only now being addressed because of the negative attention other jurisdictions are receiving because of water safety issues.

At LuminUltra, we work to ensure our clients have a clear understanding of their water’s microbiology. We also have a healthy interest in the greater world of water safety and quality. What’s happened recently around North America in relation to lead contamination underscores the need for consistent testing for contaminants, be they biological or otherwise.


Stacey Pineau

Clearly explaining complex topics has been Stacey’s focus for close to 25 years now. She helps plan how best to reach the right people, then works to provide them with relevant information that’s easy to understand. Stacey is a team player with an entrepreneurial spirit. She has broad experience that spans the private and public sectors. A lover of words, Stacey has a slightly irrational love of the library and a personal collection of way too many books and magazines. She lives in Fredericton with her husband Ray, their two children and dog Scouty.

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