|| That, in the opinion of the House: (a) the government should address the growing concerns of lead pipes and water quality in private residences across Canada by working with the provincial and territorial governments, Federation of Canadian Municipalities, as well as Indigenous partners, to advocate and establish possible solutions to these issues; (b) the Standing Committee on Transport, Infrastructure and Communities should undertake a study on “The Federal Government's role in lead pipe infrastructure in Canada”; and (c) the Committee should report to the House no later than December 1, 2017.
He said: Mr. Speaker, it is my honour today to speak to the House about my motion requesting the Standing Committee on Transport, Infrastructure and Communities to undertake a study on the federal government's role in addressing the growing concern of lead pipes and water quality across Canada.
First, I want to recognize my fellow colleagues who supported this motion and have contributed to ongoing discussions regarding lead in drinking water. I have had the pleasure of speaking with members of Parliament across party lines and heard their statements of support and encouragement. It is my hope that these conversations will be taken back to their ridings to spread awareness of the issue and that they speak with their municipalities about solutions.
Lead is often considered a problem of the past. However, the recent state of emergency in Flint, Michigan has brought the issue back into the limelight and reinforced the terrible truth about lead in the human body, that there is no acceptable safe level.
When Flint made the switch from Lake Huron to the Flint River as its direct water source, it did not address the different chemistry of the source water. It turned out to be highly corrosive in releasing the lead contained in old lead pipes into household tap water. As a result, the water began eroding the water mains. That first caused iron to leach into the water, which residents first noticed because of its cloudy orange colouration. Worst of all, half the homes in Flint still contain lead service lines, so lead was also leaching into the drinking water at highly elevated levels.
While Flint is an extreme case, the danger still exists in Canada. In fact, here are some Canadian news headlines from this year alone indicating our own issues with lead pipes and water quality.
On January 27, CTV News reported that tens of thousands of Canadians still get their drinking water from lead pipes. On January 31, the National Post's headline was “Think what’s happening with Flint’s water supply can’t happen in Canada? Think again”. On February 27, the CBC reported residents living in homes in northern B.C. might be at risk of drinking water with elevated levels of lead. On February 28, a first nations reserve in northwestern Ontario declared a state of emergency after receiving a “do not consume” water advisory from Health Canada officials. That water had higher than normal lead levels. On March 4, an Edmonton woman told CBC News that lead pipes were prevalent and that she was poisoned by her tap water. An estimated 3,500 homes in Edmonton still have lead service lines. On March 11 of this year, CBC News reported that the Village of Pemberton, B.C. had issued a warning to residents that their tap water might have high levels of lead. This news came after water testing from 20 homes found lead levels as high as six times the maximum under Canadian guidelines. On May 5, CBC News reported that more than three years after provincial regulators flagged high lead concentrations in Brandon, Manitoba's drinking water, city officials had yet to change their treatment process to reduce lead exposure for its residents. On May 20 of this year, CBC News reported that data released by the City of Toronto showed that 13% of households that submitted water samples in a voluntary lead testing program over a six-year might be exposed to dangerous levels of the element in their drinking water. On June 8, CBC News reported that Montreal's plan for removing lead lines was far behind schedule, with only 11% of buildings addressed at a halfway point on a 20-year project. On September 2, CBC News reported that 43% of drinking water fountains and taps in Surrey, B.C. schools needed flushing. The report showed that 4% of taps and drinking fountains in Surrey were not safe.
Experts agree there are well over 200,000 homes across Canada with lead service lines. The exact numbers are difficult to estimate, as many cities are unaware of the number of households containing lead service lines. Homes constructed before 1960 are more likely to contain lead pipes, and since most of our cities were well established before 1950, the potential is significant.
The Canadian guideline for the maximum allowable concentration of lead in drinking water is 0.010 milligrams per litre, or 10 parts per billion. However Health Canada, the World Health Organization, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta, and other toxicity experts say that no amount of lead consumption is considered safe.
Health Canada's 2013 report “Final Human Health State of the Science Report on Lead” found that although the blood-lead levels of Canadians have declined over the past 30 years, severe health effects are occurring below the current Canadian maximum allowable concentration for consumption. The study indicates, “Additional measures to further reduce lead exposure among Canadians are warranted”.
Even small amounts of lead can have negative impacts on the brain, kidneys, and bones, with an increased risk of developing kidney disease, anemia, and osteoporosis. In adults, lead exposure can also result in high blood pressure and hypertension.
However, children under the age of six, especially newborn babies, incur the highest risks, as scientific research shows lead exposure measurably lowers IQ scores and is linked to behavioural issues such as delinquency and criminality. Newborn babies are particularly at risk due to the effects of lead consumption on brain development. If lead is present in a family's home, the lead intake in drinking water accounts for 10% to 20% of the infant's intake of lead, and in the case of infants feeding on formula, the lead intake rises approximately 40% to 60%.
In most cases, parents are likely unaware lead consumption and its effects are even occurring. Blood-lead concentrations, even below current Health Canada maximum acceptable concentrations, can diminish the volume of the developing brain. Bruce Lanphear, toxicity expert and professor at Simon Fraser University, has stated the two major types of behavioural problems linked to a damaged prefrontal cortex are anti-social behaviour, which can lead to criminal activity, and attention deficit disorder.
Various provincial acts set testing standards to measure chemicals in drinking water. In Ontario, the maximum allowable concentration for lead is the same as the Canadian standard at 10 milligrams per litre. Ontario's legislation also makes it mandatory for older day care centres and schools to be tested, but unfortunately, testing legislation is not the same in every province. In May 2016, British Columbia instated annual water quality testing for schools across the province when elevated levels of lead were recently found in four schools in Prince Rupert.
Toxicity experts such as Bruce Lanphear argue Canada is still far behind the United States when it comes to tracking lead levels and legislating safe conditions. For instance, blood tests that determine lead levels in citizens are routine in the United States, but rarely used across Canada. It's worth repeating, no level is considered safe and the effects are irreversible.
Understanding this evidence, our country needs to improve its communications strategy to ensure its citizens and elected officials understand the dangers of lead exposure and are aware of the importance of solutions for eliminating lead lines and lead concentrations.
Toxicity experts recommend two solutions for reducing lead in drinking water. The first solution is to encourage home and building owners to get rid of their lead service lines. As an example of this, the City of Hamilton has a lead pipe service replacement program, which offers a low-interest loan to home and building owners for replacing their lead pipes. This started when I was a downtown city councillor, and requested that more tests be done in older, high-needs neighbourhoods.
The response I received was surprising. I was asked how much I wanted to spend because the more they test the more they would find. I replied that we should then test the blood of the children in those neighbourhoods. Over 700 children were tested, and 28% of them had higher than acceptable bloodlead levels.
The next step was to make it possible for residents to affordably remove the lead service lines on their property. A special low-interest loan program was started in 2010. That has given families of modest incomes the ability to get rid of their lead service lines. Hamilton had already begun a program to remove and replace lead pipes in 1993, which was prior to the loan program. As of October this year, we have replaced over 10,000 lead lines.
The second solution to reducing lead in drinking water is to treat the water to make it as corrosion-free as possible. In December 2015, Hamilton City Council decided to implement a corrosion control program, which reduces the potential for lead release into the drinking water and will be implemented in 2018. This involves adding a corrosion inhibitor called orthophosphate to the water supply, which creates a thin film layer on the inside of pipes to stop lead from leaching.
Unfortunately, many municipalities across Canada do not have a corrosion treatment program in place. In fact, according to the “Chief Drinking Water Inspector Annual Report 2014-2015”, there were only 20 Ontario cities undergoing corrosion control strategies at that time.
Additionally, many cities do not have a city lead pipe replacement program with a low-interest loan to assist owners with the cost of replacing lead service lines on their property. The beauty of the loan investment by the city is that it is constantly being replenished as payments are made so that new applications are continually improved, with the potential that eventually all lines could be replaced.
My hoped-for outcome of this motion, if passed, is that the committee study will bring forward concrete recommendations as to how the federal government can play a key role in guidance and advocacy for removing lead pipes and lead traces from drinking water. For instance, the committee could look at the federal government's role as an advisory body over eradication efforts for lead in drinking water.
From my research and discussions with experts, I believe eradicating lead from Canadian drinking water begins with a proactive approach to municipal lead service replacement programs. These programs could benefit from an inventory of lead service lines, annual replacement goals, and information briefings for residents.
Following pipe replacement initiatives, strengthening corrosion control treatments is another key factor for removing the presence of lead in our drinking water. These treatments should be reassessed regularly to determine if new scientific or environmental information warrants any changes or adjustments.
The committee could also review the possibility of the federal government's role in a public education mandate regarding lead toxicity. A public education mandate with specific outreach initiatives would be of great benefit, especially to neighbourhoods with older infrastructure and communities with young families.
I have engaged with water quality stakeholders, leading North American toxicity experts, and local residents, and have received very positive feedback on my motion.
My office is in the process of setting up additional meetings with key stakeholders, including first nations and indigenous organizations.
If Motion No. 69 goes to committee for study, members can hear directly from experts and stakeholders regarding lead pipes and water quality, and I will certainly pass along my recommendations for witnesses who can speak to these concerns.
Given the very positive conversations I have had with the and his office, I would be open to a friendly amendment to the motion to move the committee study ahead of the federal government's required actions.
Before closing, I want to highlight, again, three very important points that I hope members will take away today.
First, no amount of lead is considered safe and therefore our Canadian, provincial, and territorial standards for maximum allowable concentrations of lead should perhaps be reconsidered.
Second, many municipalities may not have an up-to-date inventory of lead service lines and pipe locations, and some municipalities are not effectively providing all solutions for lead reduction.
Finally, we need to increase public awareness about the adverse health effects caused by lead consumption.
Lead pipes were well-recognized as a cause of lead poisoning by the late 1800s in the United States and by the 1920s, many cities and towns were already prohibiting or restricting their use. However, the lead industry aggressively combatted this trend through various advertising and lobbying campaigns, which meant that some communities were still allowing lead installations as late as the 1980s.
We can no longer take a reactive approach to combatting lead pipes and drinking water situations. The time has come for the federal government to work together with its provincial, territorial, municipal, and indigenous partners to create a unified cross-country solution to eradicate these issues.
I hope I can count on the support of all my colleagues support.
Mr. Speaker, I am honoured to speak on the merits of Motion No. 69.
For much of human history, we have used lead for its high density, low melting point, ductility, and relative inertness against oxygen corrosion. In the 20th century, lead has been commonly used in a variety of products. From paint to pipes, the uses seemed endless, but that was before we understood the unfortunate effects that lead has on a person's health.
Before the 1950s, lead was commonly used in the pipes that make up our drinking water systems due to the malleability of the metal, which made it easy to bend and shape, and its resistance to corrosion. It was at this point that most of the piping that brings water to homes was being constructed with lead-based pipes.
These vast and complicated systems of water distribution were efficient and economical. There was no issue until scientists became aware of the danger that this material can have on the everyday water use. However, even once the industry knew, it was still behind in limiting the use of these dangerous pipes.
The National Plumbing Code of Canada did not recognize lead as a harmful material until it was too late, allowing lead in home plumbing until 1975, and as a solder until 1986. This has allowed for hundreds of thousands of homes being built with water infrastructure that is dangerous to the residents.
The issue with replacing these lead pipes is not that we are unwilling, but that these pipes are mainly located beneath privately owned property. Thus, the responsibility to replace these pipes rests on the shoulders of the property owner and not the municipality. As a result, many of these pipes are lying unnoticed underground, contaminating the water supplies of countless Canadians. The cost to Canadians is enormous. Contractors who remove the piping charge thousands of dollars to do so, due to the large undertaking of these projects.
We are aware of the dangerous effects of having lead in our water supply. In children, lead exposure can cause anemia, behavioural problems, slow growth, and a lower IQ. In adults, it can lead to kidney failure, high blood pressure, and sterility in both men and women.
There is a reason we do not use lead in our pipes anymore. We are no strangers to the dangers of lead exposure. This is why lead has not been in use for this purpose since the 1970s, and why most old pipes have been replaced.
The problem we face with the removal of lead pipes is that while many municipalities are working to replace old plumbing with new and safer plumbing, in most cities, the responsibility to replace lead pipes under private property falls to the homeowner. This can cost as much as ten thousand dollars plus.
The majority of homes still getting water from these pipes are old homes, dating back to the 1950s and 1960s, in older cities, like Toronto, Ottawa, Montreal, Edmonton, and Vancouver, just to name a few. Often these homes have not had their pipes inspected in decades. Many people are not even aware of the type of piping that services their homes. Many of these homes are in low-income neighbourhoods, where the massive price tag is far beyond anything they can afford, leaving residents to live with the contaminated water.
Safe drinking water is a necessity for all Canadians. While many provinces have testing standards for drinking water, unfortunately, it is not uniform across all provinces and territories.
In Toronto, the provincial government took a temporary break from testing for lead and will not resume it until 2017. The City of Toronto has started treating its water with phosphate to prevent the corrosion of the lead pipes that causes contamination. However, because Ontario is not currently testing the waters for lead, we do not know if it is working.
In Montreal, despite the fact that the city has had a plan since 2006 to remove the 69,000 lead pipes throughout the city, only roughly 8,000 have been dealt with so far.
On top of this, more often than not, homeowners are not even aware of what they are drinking. Certain cities, like Calgary and Edmonton, send annual notices to homes serviced by lead pipes, reminding them of the danger and that they can get it fixed. It is a friendly notice that they have an issue which must be dealt with in a timely fashion.
Additionally, many places will help homeowners get their water tested for lead contamination. However, we need to make sure that this is happening all over the country, and that every Canadian who is currently being serviced by lead pipes is aware of their options to replace their water system or filter for their drinking water.
When Matt and Mandy Pisarek moved into an old home in Toronto's Beaches neighbourhood, the last thing they thought they would have to worry about was their drinking water. It was only by chance that they discovered that despite the fact that all the pipes on their street had been replaced in the late seventies, the plumbing under their house was still leaching dangerous levels of lead into their water. With Mandy pregnant, and both of them soon to be parents, they were concerned for their child's safety. They explored every option. Unfortunately the $10,000 price tag was just too much for them, and Matt decided they would buy a filter to protect his wife and child from the dangers in their faucets.
This story is not unique. Thousands and thousands of Canadians do not know whether or not their water is safe to drink, and are exposing themselves to the unfortunate effects of their old plumbing.
This motion will help the federal government, provinces, territories, and municipalities to collaborate and come up with solutions that will ensure the best possible solution to the lead pipe problem. We need to recognize that there is a problem with the way this country looks at safe drinking water, and we need to fix it. The motion proposed by the member opposite from is imperative to developing a national strategy for removing lead pipes from water supplies. We need to work with provinces and territories all across the country to make sure that all Canadians have safe drinking water in their homes.
Most municipalities have taken action to ensure they conform to the standards laid out in 2009 surrounding the removal and replacement of lead pipes, but there are still places where this issue has taken a back seat. Residents in these communities are being needlessly put at risk and they do not even know it.
Additionally, many experts argue that Canada is still far behind the United States when it comes to tracking lead levels and legislating safe specifications for drinking water. This is unacceptable. The U.S. is still dealing with the water crisis in Flint, and yet we still are struggling to keep up with them. We can do better; we must do better for all Canadians.
We need to be working to ensure that all Canadians are able to turn on their faucets without fearing for the health of their children and themselves. We know the risks of lead contamination, and we know that Canadian families deserve better than this. It is our responsibility to protect the people of this nation, not only from threats abroad but from the unassuming threats at home, or in this case, in and under their own homes.
With the Liberal government committing to spending so much on infrastructure, I hope that it will support this motion that seeks to improve infrastructure and protect public safety at the same time. The safety of all Canadians is something we can all agree on, and I hope that everyone will support this motion.
Mr. Speaker, it is an honour to rise today to speak to Motion No. 69, a motion brought forward by the member for , which deals with a very important issue surrounding water quality.
Let me start by saying that the NDP supports this initiative, which is aimed at ensuring Canadians have access to high-quality drinking water at all times, regardless of where they live or their economic status.
It is also important to understand that this motion calls upon the Standing Committee on Transport, Infrastructure and Communities to undertake a study of the federal government's role in updating lead components in water systems. There is a growing concern about the contamination of drinking water in private residences and schools due to lead water pipes and connecting lines.
The NDP takes the health risk posed by lead contamination of drinking water very seriously. The recent crisis in Flint, Michigan, as well as some other similar examples in Canada, reminds us all that this is a very serious public health issue. We cannot wait before taking necessary action. The government must be proactive on this file. It really is high time the government undertake a dialogue with the municipalities, provinces, territories, and first nations to work toward developing a national strategy for ensuring that all Canadians have access to high-quality drinking water. I really do think that most people would agree with what I have said.
However, I need to point out that the efforts of my friend from may in fact be stopped in the end by his own government. With their plan to privatize our infrastructure, the Liberals may very well end up turning their backs on the most important needs of Canadians. Public health issues such as lead contamination will no doubt take a back seat and not be a priority for shareholders and the rich friends of the current government.
The government cannot refuse to take seriously the dangers of lead poisoning. Health Canada has established the maximum acceptable concentration of lead in drinking water at 10 parts per billion in order to protect the most vulnerable populations, babies and small children. However, recent scientific studies show that even a minute quantity is toxic. The World Health Organization has concluded that there is no known level of lead exposure that is considered safe.
According to the experts at the Canadian Water Network, at least 200,000 Canadian households are at risk of being exposed to lead through their tap water. In large cities, even if most of the municipal water mains are no longer composed of lead, the water service lines to private properties may contain lead and still pose a risk to health. For example, in Montreal, the number of buildings with lead in their service lines is estimated to be higher than 60,000. In Toronto, there are estimated to be 35,000 such homes. Even in my own city of Hamilton there are approximately 20,000 homes. Furthermore, lead can also come from the solder in plumbing or valves such as brass faucets. Small quantities of lead can therefore dissolve into the drinking water that runs through them or that sits for a few hours or more.
While there are household water treatment devices available that are certified to remove lead from tap water, permanently reducing exposure to lead through drinking water involves eliminating the sources of lead that affect the water. Replacing lead pipes is the most effective method. When municipal water systems are connected to the old lead pipes of a private residence, cities do not assume the costs of the renovations because they are not on city property. The financial burden falls on the individual homeowners, and can be a heavy one, between $2,000 and $5,000 or even more depending on where the pipe is, such as underneath a driveway or concrete walkway.
The cities of Ottawa, Hamilton, and London have implemented action plans to change the pipes on the public portion under the street and sidewalk, and encourage residents to do the same on the private portion with the help of special loan programs.
There is also an additional danger to health when a new copper water pipe is connected to an old lead pipe as there is a chemical reaction between the two metals that increases the amount of lead particles that are released. Therefore, it is critical that private water lines be replaced at the same time as the municipal infrastructure.
The member for and I have both shared some hands-on experience with this issue during our time on the Hamilton City Council. The member had done great work bringing awareness of lead in Hamilton households, and proposing a solution to help homeowners replace lead pipes on private property by offering special loans for those needing financial help. Many residents in my riding took advantage of this program.
The NDP believes that the government must focus some assistance on the collection and analysis of statistical data related to the use of lead. Municipalities and first nation communities must, first of all, be in a position to assess the scope of the problem. Most municipalities do not have a register of their water pipes, and small communities do not have the resources to put one together.
Since 2007, the Government of Ontario has required day nurseries and schools to test their water quality. Such a requirement should be established for the entire country. Incentives to update infrastructure are critical. We would like the Standing Committee on Transport, Infrastructure and Communities to study the loan programs established in Ottawa, Hamilton, and London to provide homeowners with financial assistance to modernize the lead service lines on their properties. I believe these loans should be interest free.
We would also like the standing committee to study mechanisms for establishing a special program to modernize lead infrastructure in the context of the clean water and wastewater fund of phase 2 of the infrastructure plan.
The World Health Organization has concluded that there is no known level of lead exposure considered safe. We know that at least 200,000 Canadian households are at risk of being exposed to lead through their tap water. This is very dangerous, and also unacceptable. The government can and must do something about it.
I applaud my friend from for bringing this motion forward. I sincerely hope the fact the Liberals are withdrawing $15 billion in promised infrastructure funding and putting it in a privatization bank will not prevent the necessary action set out in the motion and end up putting the health of thousands of Canadians at risk.
Mr. Speaker, what a pleasure it is to rise today to speak on the motion that has been brought forward by my friend, the member for . Perhaps I could start by giving him a well-earned compliment for this national initiative in the interests of all Canadians. Education on the whole issue of lead pipes and lead poisoning is something that is of great importance to our country.
Given the comments, I understand the member is open to amendments to it. Hopefully, we will be able to come up with a consensus and even see the motion passed with unanimous support. That is what I would like to see.
Access to clean water is crucial to the overall prosperity of our communities and for future generations of Canadians. Effective water and wastewater infrastructure provides clean, safe water for our children to drink and ensures that our communities remain healthy and strong.
By listening to our partners, we know that continued investment in upgrading the aging water and wastewater system in communities across the country is needed. This has been identified by a number of provinces, territories, and municipal stakeholders throughout our consultations.
Under most of Infrastructure Canada's current programs, drinking water infrastructure, including the replacement and upgrading of publicly owned drinking water transmission pipes, has been an eligible category of investment. This includes the replacement of lead pipes. In fact, since 2002, Infrastructure Canada has provided funding for more than 5,100 drinking water projects, with a total investment of nearly $2.9 billion, through the federal gas tax fund and other contribution programs.
The Town of Osoyoos, British Columbia, will be using federal gas tax funds to hook up to the municipal water system. Once the project is completed, the annual boil water advisories that have become commonplace will be eliminated. While the Government of Canada's commitment to clean water has been consistent, it is important to understand our government's commitment to Canadian communities moving forward.
As announced in budget 2016, we are investing more than $10 billion in the first phase of our long-term plan for public transit, green infrastructure, and social infrastructure. Our creation of the clean water and wastewater fund shows that we believe it is important to invest in these infrastructure projects.
We know how important these projects are to our communities. Water in the town of Lanigan in Saskatchewan was affected by recent flooding. As a result, the people of Lanigan were lacking quality water to bathe their children, wash their clothes, and prepare their food. Thanks to financial support from the Government of Canada, the community will soon upgrade its water and wastewater treatment systems.
On November 1, my colleague, the hon. , provided the Government of Canada's fall economic statement, laying out the fiscal framework of our long-term infrastructure plan, which expands on our plan from budget 2016. The plan will focus on five key areas: public transit, green infrastructure, social infrastructure, trade and transportation, and rural and northern communities.
Strategic infrastructure investments in these areas are critical to our communities for several reasons. Communities thrive when they are known for a high quality of life. Clean water, clean air, efficient transit, and access to key services are all important parts of a high quality of life. Investments in these areas build the foundation of places where people want to live and work. It helps our communities stay healthy, attract and keep talent, and foster innovation.
Under this plan, we will commit nearly $26.9 billion over 12 years to green infrastructure projects. This includes funding that will ensure access to safe water and building of greener communities where Canadians can watch their children play and grow.
These investments will support our overall objectives to create long-term economic growth, build inclusive, sustainable communities, and support a low-carbon green economy. Including the work already under way, our long-term infrastructure plan will invest more than $180 billion in federal funding over 12 years. These investments will make a tangible difference for our communities.
Infrastructure investments to protect water quality will continue to be critical to the health and well-being of Canadians. That is why our government is already taking action to invest in community water and water systems.
We will continue to engage with the provincial and territorial governments, indigenous partners, and partners like the FCM to ensure that our long-term plan meets the real needs of communities across Canada.
We commend the work that is already under way in many Canadian municipalities across the country to support the removal of potentially dangerous lead pipes serving in public infrastructure and private and commercial properties.
Moving forward, the Government of Canada will continue to work in collaboration with all levels of government and our other partners to address the water safety concerns and ensure that Canadian families across our great country have access to clean water.
I indicated at the beginning of my speech that we were being asked to demonstrate that we had a role to play, a role of strong, national leadership on what was a very important issue.
My colleague and friend who brought forward this motion made reference to how important it was that we work with the different stakeholders, understanding there are different jurisdictional responsibilities. We understand and appreciate, whether it is provincial governments, municipal governments or indigenous people, that many different communities and stakeholders all have a role to play when it comes to this very important issue.
As a member of Parliament for , many of the homes I represent were built 100 years ago, or 75 years ago. The threat is very real in a very serious way, and we should be looking for guidance. We are being asked to allow this issue to go to committee, to establish what sort of role we can play going forward. It is a responsible approach for all of us to give this motion serious consideration.
I have an amendment that I will be bringing forward momentarily, but I would encourage members to reflect on the motion. Hopefully my colleague will accept the amendment and we can move forward on it.
|| That the motion be amended by deleting all the words after the words “opinion of the House” and substituting the following: (a) the Standing Committee on Transport, Infrastructure and Communities should undertake a study on (i) the presence of lead in Canadian tap water, (ii) provincial, territorial and municipal efforts to date to replace lead water distribution lines, (iii) current federal efforts to support other levels of government in the provision of safe drinking water; (b) the committee should report to the House no later than December 1, 2017; and (c) following the tabling of the said report, the federal government should engage with stakeholders, such as provincial and territorial governments, the Federation of Canadian Municipalities, as well as indigenous partners to discuss options for addressing lead drinking water service lines, including any potential role for the federal government.
Mr. Speaker, I am proud to rise today to discuss Motion No. 69 and look forward to reading the amendments put forward through the deputy House leader.
I truly hope my husband is listening, because this is a personal and public service announcement. After doing this research, I am thinking of my own house, which was built in the 1960s. Are there or are there not lead pipes in my own home? I will have to go home and check tonight.
The motion aims to address the growing concerns about water quality delivered via lead pipes to private residences throughout Canada.
I will start with the concerns about lead drinking water pipes and why Canadians should be concerned about them. I will discuss solutions that have been recommended and that some municipalities addressed.
According to the Canadian guidelines, the acceptable concentration of lead found in water is 0.01% milligrams per litre. What are the consequences and why should we as Canadians be concerned?
We know that lead is a toxic metal that can be harmful to human health, especially children, infants, and fetuses. This group is very vulnerable, as exposure to this metal can lead to physical and behavioural affects. It can damage the central and peripheral nervous system, and lead to learning disabilities, shorter stature, impaired hearing, and impaired formation and function of blood cells. For fetuses, consumption of lead by the mother accumulates and can be released to the fetus. It can cross the placental barrier, exposing the fetus to lead. This can cause reduced growth of the fetus and possibly premature birth. In adults, exposure to lead can cause increased blood pressure and hypertension, along with decreased kidney function and reproductive problems.
In Flint Michigan, just across the Canada-U.S. border, close to my own home, following a change in water supply, a high concentration of lead was found. Thousands of children were exposed to these toxic substances. This was a result of Flint's use of old pipes that were corroding due to the chemical changes in the source water. We Canadians can learn from this crisis.
Research has indicated that the brain can absorb lead, which results in negative effects on the frontal cortex, which in turn can have a negative impact on essential learning and memory, and attention and planning. The effects of lead can be permanent and can result in lifelong disabilities. In the U.S., lead is considered the number one health threat to children.
According to the World Health Organization, children absorb between four to five times as much lead as adults when ingested. There is no safe level of lead in blood concentration.
What is the issue?
Here in Canada, post-war, many homes were built and both municipalities and home owners used lead pipes. It is just in the past 36 years that lead pipes have stopped being used altogether. Although the federal government has no direct involvement, at the same time we must ensure that the water for Canadians is safe to drink.
Together with the provinces and territories, Health Canada has established the “Guidelines for Canadian Drinking Water Quality”, but we must remind ourselves that it is up to the jurisdictions to set their own guidelines and enforcement.
We understand that this is cost for municipalities and homeowners to replace these pipes that have corroded over time and allowed lead to leach. Measures taken in the past few decades have greatly reduced the exposure of lead in tap water. Through proper testing, the amount of lead in water can be determined. Sampling protocols have been recommended and steps to reduce population exposure have also been provided.
We understand that it can cost homeowners up to $10,000 to replace these pipes from the municipal lines to their homes, as well as their own plumbing. We must recognize that the cost that is taken on by the municipalities is only for their own public pipelines and not for the pipeline that goes from that source into a home. This is something that homeowners will have to be aware of.
Across Canada, many municipalities have already taken action. In Halifax, a lead pipe replacement program was put in place. In Edmonton, water tests have been completed. In Montreal, the city implemented a 20-year plan to address the lead toxins in its drinking water.
Health Canada's “Guidance on Controlling Corrosion in Drinking Water Distribution Systems” is a great resource for all Canadians, whether personally or in government, to refer to. The document addresses the common issues of corrosion as well as corrosion control. The document indicates that the intent is to provide responsible authorities with guidance on assessing corrosion and implementing corrosion control for distribution systems and residential settings. It notes proper protocols and steps for monitoring. It also indicates that the role of the federal government “is primarily one of science and research, including the development of guidelines for drinking water and providing scientific and technical expertise to the provincial and territorial governments.”
We know that lead can leach into potable water through pipes, solders, and fittings.
There is guidance to prioritizing residential monitoring sites, as well as a detailed explanation of conditions that favour lead leaching in drinking water distribution, including treatment plants, distribution systems, plumbing systems, and even at our own taps. This information can be found in the document at healthycanadians.gc.ca.
Truly, what can we do?
Across Canada, many municipalities have provided testing and have worked with homeowners to replace their pipes because of health risks.
When we know that there is a solution, we should be taking action, but not necessarily at the federal level. We must recognize the inconsistency among municipalities of implementing the recommendations from the 2009 report “Guidance on Controlling Corrosion in Drinking Water Distribution Systems” and we must be sure not to duplicate our efforts. This is a familiar thing done by many different governments. We seem to constantly study and study and study, and it is the same thing. We know this is an issue, and we should be doing something about it.
Meanwhile, we can also explore the impact to communities that have lead pipes but have increased pH levels, like Vancouver. Vancouver is a bit different because it has alkalinity in its water so the corrosion does not exist. Maybe taking an opportunity to look at the pH levels and see how we can tweak them to make sure there is no corrosion is another option for the government to take.
As in the report tabled during the previous government, information already exists and we must face the challenges including methods of measuring lead, monitoring programs, and prioritizing residential monitoring sites. We must recognize the financial impact to homeowners and to the taxpayers of Canada, while keeping the health of Canadians at top of mind.
I have noted the potential health risks, especially to young children, infants, and fetuses, and the unnecessary results from lead poisoning, including a variety of permanent disabilities.
As a party, we favour the elimination of lead in drinking water; however, we must respect the jurisdiction of municipal governments. The health of Canadians must be our priority, but we must understand the unique situations across Canada, from coast to coast to coast.
As a government, the Liberals should be looking at opportunities to make sure that we can change and educate and make sure that we have opportunities when it comes to testing and any other sources.
As I indicated, the federal government is in charge of scientific expertise. This is an opportunity for the government to do that as well, and I hope it will.
Mr. Speaker, it is with great interest that I stand in the House of Commons today to speak to Motion No. 69, presented by the hon. member for .
Let me start by saying, water is life.
Thousands of protesters are in Standing Rock, as we speak, to convey this important message. I would like to take this opportunity to express my solidarity with my constituents who are there now, and others who are heading there to join the peaceful protest. Their banner represents the very issue we are talking about today: protecting our water resource and ensuring access to clean water for communities.
In 2013, Bruce McKenzie walked from Stanley Mission, Saskatchewan, to Ottawa, to raise awareness about access to clean drinking water and protection of our water resources. He saw the importance of having clean drinking water in our communities, so he took time off work to walk across Canada to highlight this very concern.
In my community, and in communities across the country, we count on this resource for survival. It is a no-brainer. It is a resource that we use every day, to drink, to eat, and to clean. I also think about indigenous communities who use lakes and rivers to fish and to hunt. These are integral to their traditional practices and customs. Canadians need to be confident that their water is clean and safe for consumption. This should be the very least of their worries, and it is the government's responsibility to establish that assurance.
The motion calls on the government to address the growing concerns of lead pipes and water quality in private residences across Canada by working with provincial and territorial governments, with the Federation of Canadian Municipalities, as well as with indigenous partners, to advocate and establish passable solutions.
The motion would mandate the Standing Committee on Transport, Infrastructure and Communities to undertake a study on the federal government's role in lead pipe infrastructure in Canada, and to report back to the House next year with its findings. I support this mandate. This is a particularly important issue in my riding, where the quality of drinking water is too often compromised.
In northern Saskatchewan, we know all too well what it is to be under constant alert by water boiling advisories caused by storms, power failures, and even because of oil spills, as we witnessed last summer with the Husky spill in the North Saskatchewan River. Poor infrastructure is also an important component of persistent water boiling advisories. Outdated water infrastructure in municipalities and on first nations reserves does not often guarantee clean drinking water. We have seen, on many occasions, contaminated water reaching private residences that are connected to lead pipes. This is without mentioning the amount of chemicals that are used to clean the water. In most cases, a great amount of fluoride is used to treat the water, which could have serious repercussions on people's health.
I understand that we are speaking about lead in private pipes, but I feel it is important to highlight that lead is one component, among other challenges, that northerners face when it comes to access to drinking water. Distribution of water in households and in businesses should be seen as a package. As the FCM and the National Research Council Canada noted in their guide entitled “Water Quality in Distribution Systems”, “The ability to measure, monitor, and control all aspects of your distribution system water quality is mandatory to ensure safe water, to assess the seriousness of a situation during an emergency and to prove due diligence."
Before I end my presentation, I just want to note that before I came here, I received a call informing me that half of northern Saskatchewan has a power failure, which means that when the power is restored, boil water advisories will have to be issued.