Lead testing and websites are enough to make one a hypochondriac

PUC Services Inc. is offering me a free tap water test.

It seems their “records indicate that lead service pipes may have been used in homes built between 1943 and 1948. Based on the age of your home, it is possible that lead may have been used in the water service pipe for your home.”

The word “lead” alone had me dialling.

The letter also states that the Safe Water Drinking Act of July 2007 requires PUC to collect and analyze water where lead is suspected. The regulations require a twice yearly sampling.

My letter is dated Jan. 10, 2011 — 3 1/2 years after the regulations under the Safe Drinking Water Act were introduced. I have lived here 1 1/2 years, since July 2009. Yet, this is the first I hear of a potential lead problem?

Why am I so concerned, you ask? Sometimes the Internet can drive you crazy. Health Canada says, “Even small amounts of lead can be hazardous to your health.”

Did I mention that I have two children? “Lead exposure is most serious for young children because their growing bodies absorb lead more easily than adults and they are more susceptible to its harmful effects.”

Did I mention that my oldest only just turned seven? The Mayo Clinic says: “Children under the age of six are especially vulnerable to lead poisoning, which can severely affect mental and physical development.”

Did I mention I’ve lived here for 1 1/2 years? “Lead poisoning occurs when lead builds up in the body, often over a period of months or years. Even small amounts of lead can cause serious health problems.”

The PUC letter reads that “Testing is a quick and reliable way to make sure the lead levels in your tap meet drinking water standards.” Back to Health Canada: “No ‘safe’ level of exposure to lead has been identified. Recent scientific studies indicate that health effects may be occurring in children at blood lead levels below 10 µg/dL, which was once considered a ‘safe’ level.”

I’ve heard that the PUC has been highly proactive compared to other communities in addressing lead in water, yet after rereading the letter and mulling all this over, I keep staring at my tap like it’s a loaded gun.

Back to the Internet. The list of symptoms in children (from the Mayo Clinic) includes: “Irritability, loss of appetite, weight loss, sluggishness and fatigue, abdominal pain, vomiting, constipation, unusual paleness from anemia, learning difficulties.”

Their adult list isn’t much prettier: “Pain, numbness or tingling of the extremities, muscular weakness, headache, abdominal pain, memory loss, mood disorders, reduced sperm count, abnormal sperm, miscarriage or premature birth in pregnant women, fatigue, especially with the caveat preceding the list: “Even exposure to amounts of lead too low to cause symptoms in the short term may increase the risk of high blood pressure and mental decline in the future.”

I haven’t even gotten the water test done yet and I’m ready to make a doctor’s appointment to get my kids’ blood tested. Reading these websites is enough to make one a hypochondriac.

Aside from the health issues, the letter also raises potential financial side-effects. Replacing my water service might be necessary. How much will it cost? The letter does not address this niggly detail, though PUC is kind enough to offer an interest-free loan.

Thinking about the possibility of this invisible hazard, I start crunching numbers. Assuming my kids and I have only had one glass of water a day each (which is really a very low estimate), we have ingested more than 557 glasses or 139 litres of water with potentially elevated lead levels.

Perhaps Brian Curran, president and CEO of PUC, and some of his executive team, would like to come over with their children and grandchildren and drink 557 glasses of homemade lemonade each (made from my tap water), while explaining to me why I shouldn’t be worried. Of course, I’d be careful not to serve the acidic lemonade in lead crystal glasses. (Please note: this paragraph was intended to be extremely tongue-in-cheek.) Perhaps, while their bladders were bursting, I could even offer some tips on how to make their letter less frightening and/or make the process for new homeowners and families at risk more effective?

I’m interested if you have received such a letter and what the results were, not to mention the cost of replacing your service line. Please e-mail me.

If you’re living in a house built between 1943 and 1948, PUC’s number for making a lead testing appointment is 705-759-6522. If you have children under the age of six, are pregnant, or are planning to have a baby, I urge you to call.

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