‘Transformational’: Halifax Water will lead landmark lead pipe replacement program for private homes – Halifax

Experts on the dangers of lead and water say a new program to replace lead pipes on private land for free indicates Halifax is leading the way in improving drinking water safety.

On Thursday, the Nova Scotia Utility and Review Board (UARB) ruled that there was “no opposition” to Halifax Water, which pays 100 percent of the cost of line replacement (LSL) for both public and residential properties.

“It would have been very easy for her not to do this and say, ‘Well, let’s just let another city do it,” said Graham Gagnon of the Center for Water Resource Studies at Dalhousie University.

“We’re in a great position … it makes me proud to be a Haligonian.”

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Gagnon’s colleague, postdoctoral fellow Benjamin Trueman, said the decision to give the program the go-ahead was “transformative”.

“The cost of replacing lead pipes has long been a significant barrier to homeowners,” he told Global News. “This gets to the bottom of the problem in a way that the corrosion protection does not.”

Halifax Water’s $ 14 million plan was announced in 2019 after an investigation led by Global News and the Halifax star released a troubling history of failed lead tests from Halifax Water due to persistent piping in aging public and private infrastructure .

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There are around 3,500 private and 2,500 public lines that need to be replaced at a total cost of $ 38.5 million.

The same research cited by the utility as a catalyst for its proposal also found that nearly a quarter of a million households in private wells in the province are at risk of lead contamination.

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Last November, the Halifax Water Board unanimously supported a motion to complete LSL replacement for homes within its borders by “2039 or earlier” amid concerns about the serious public health risk associated with lead exposure.

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Lead is a neurotoxin that has been linked to an increased incidence of high blood pressure, kidney dysfunction, decreased cognitive performance, and other complications. It is especially dangerous for children associated with ADHD, decreased IQ, and developmental disorders.

It can get into tap water from a variety of sources, including the underground lead pipes that connect homes to city water pipes or wells, or from lead solder or some plumbing fixtures that contain traces of it in homes.

But that will change once the LSL is replaced, Gagnon said.

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“Once you remove the lead pipe, the amount of lead in your drinking water drops significantly. Therefore, every homeowner should prioritize this as a measure for the good of their family.”

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In October 2019, a national investigation called “Tainted Water” found that hundreds of thousands of Canadians were inadvertently exposed to lead in their drinking water – many in dangerous levels in excess of Health Canada guidelines.

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The project was a collaboration between Global News, Star Halifax, the Institute of Investigative Journalism at Concordia University, and covered students at the University of King’s College and other media and academic partners across the country.

Halifax Water directly credited this coverage in its proposal to replace lead pipes for free. One report said the series resulted in a 241 percent increase in lead-related web traffic within a week of its release, and customer requests for information were 25 to 50 times higher than normal.

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News of the improved utility was welcomed by Robie Street homeowner Steve Mackay, who was unable to replace the lead pipes in his home due to the prohibitive cost – up to $ 10,000 in some cases. Without the replacement pipes, Mackay has meanwhile used a filtration system to keep the lead out.

“I think this is great news and I would certainly be interested in having the lead pipes connected to our house replaced,” he told Global News. “I heard this program was a work in progress and I’m glad it was approved.”

There is no direct precedent for such a program – other communities in Canada have discount programs or partial or conditional payment options. Halifax Water is the first utility company to pay for public and private LSL replacement products free of charge with no questions asked.

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Previously, Halifax Water could only offer a 25 percent discount on replacement costs up to a maximum of $ 2,500. This program will continue to be used when customers are not eligible for a full refund but want to replace their lead pipes.

The new policy on free replacement of leads will take effect immediately, and Halifax Water will begin with “high risk households” – those with pregnant or breastfeeding women and young children. Other homes are timed with road renewal projects to save costs.

“Lead has long been known to be a health problem and we want to get the lead out of the system,” said utility spokesman James Campbell. “If we can help our customers do this at our expense and move the program forward faster, so much the better.

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Halifax Water estimates that the expanded program will result in a full lead pipe replacement 24 years sooner than if the current rebate regime had continued. Homeowners can visit the utility’s website to find out if their property is likely to have lead pipes and will be asked to call their names and put them on the replacement list.

In addition to approving lead pipe replacement, the NSUARB approved Halifax Water’s recommendation not to increase water rates in fiscal 2020-21 and 2021-22 and not to increase total wastewater rates in fiscal 2020-21.

“Halifax Water’s first request to increase rates was made prior to the pandemic,” Catherine O’Toole, general manager of Halifax Water, said in a statement.

“Given that many customers were concerned about the future and their ability to pay bills, a longer term strategy was developed that allowed Halifax Water to reduce requested rate increases while maintaining high quality, reliable and affordable service . “

© 2020 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

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