Drinking Water Quality Testing

McMaster University is committed to ensuring that every person on campus has access to safe drinking water.  In 2010, the University initiated a sampling and testing program to test for the concentration of lead in the drinking water.  This voluntary testing program is now ongoing and buildings constructed before 1990 with original fountains are tested annually. In pre 1990 buildings with newly installed fountains, testing will be performed biennially.

When the initial testing was done in 2010, concentrations above the Ontario drinking water standard were found in some campus buildings.   The University immediately implemented control measures including, taking effected fountains and sinks out of service, providing temporary drinking water supplies, and installing lead filters in existing as well as in new fountains.  Environmental and Occupational Health Support Services (EOHSS), Facility Services and Office of Sustainability continue to work together to ensure access to safe drinking water. 

What is lead?

Lead is a naturally occurring element present in the earth’s crust.  Lead exists in our air, soil, household dust, food, drinking water and various consumer products.     

Lead has been commonly used in plumbing materials and water service lines since the late 1800’s.  The National Plumbing Code allowed the use of leaded pipes until 1975 and in solder until 1986.  For that reason, older homes and buildings are more likely to have drinking water containing elevated concentrations of lead.

Do elevated concentrations of lead in drinking water pose a health risk?

Elevated concentrations of lead in tap water can cause health effects if the lead in the water enters the bloodstream.  Drinking water in older children and adults contributes to approximately 10% of total lead intake.  Elevated blood lead levels are a concern for pregnant women as lead in their blood can pass to the fetus, and for children six  years of age or younger because they absorb lead more readily than older individuals.         

Does Ontario have a drinking water quality standard for lead and other chemical compounds?

Yes.  The Ontario drinking water quality standard for lead is 10 micrograms per litre or 10 parts per billion, which is based on the national standard.  This limit is based on a conservative estimate of how much lead in drinking water can contribute to a child's total exposure to lead from all sources.  

What is the process for collecting water samples at McMaster?

Water samples are collected from water fountains and kitchenette sinks in all campus buildings.  Two samples are gathered from each water source, a stand sample and a flush sample.  First a stand sample is collected which represents the "worst-case" concentrations.  The flush sample requires running the water for five minutes and subsequently letting the water stand for 30 minutes prior to collecting the sample.  The samples are then delivered to the lab for analysis and lab results are provided to the respective Joint Health and Safety Committee Co-Chairs.  Sampling methods were verified through the Occupational and Environmental Health Laboratory (OEHL) as well as internal sources of expertise. 

What is the action plan for areas where elevated lead levels are found in drinking water?

In areas where the quality standard for drinking water is not met, fountains and sinks were immediately taken out of service and notices are posted.  Certified water filters are installed to remove lead from water at the tap.  Following the installation of filters, stand samples and flush samples are once again collected to ensure the drinking water meets the standard.  Fountains and kitchenette sinks located in buildings constructed prior to 1990 will be tested annually and filters will be maintained as part of the Facility Services preventative maintenance program.     

Where can I find more information about lead in drinking water?

Health Canada:

http://www.hc-sc.gc.ca/hl-vs/iyh-vsv/environ/lead-plomb-eng.php

Ministry of Environment:

http://www.portal.gov.on.ca/drinkingwater/272698.pdf

City of Hamilton:

https://www.hamilton.ca/home-property-and-development/water-sewer/lead-in-your-drinking-water

Please contact Alicia Westfall, Health & Safety Specialist, Environmental and Occupational Health Support Services (EOHSS), at or ext. 24967 if you have additional questions.