Canadian lead regulations and how to comply

In 2019 lead became a hot topic for many residents in Canada as an extensive investigation found widespread exposure to lead in drinking water. Going public with the findings, this increased attention also came shortly after Health Canada released new guidelines concerning lead in drinking water. Unlike other countries, Canada has different regulations by region, with Health Canada setting what they believe is the benchmark for local governments to enforce.

In the new guidelines, Health Canada cemented their commitment to reducing lead in drinking water and the severity of the risk that lead contamination can cause to humans and in particular children. The most significant change coming by reducing their guidelines from 10 µg/L to 5 µg/L for the maximum acceptable level of lead contamination, which is now more stringent than the WHO guidelines of 10 µg/L.

How can I comply with the new Canadian guidelines for lead in water?

The main way to comply with the regulations is to implement a rigorous lead testing procedure. This should be performed on a regular basis, sampling at the point where drinking water is distributed. On-site testing enables immediate visibility of lead contamination and will also display results of any lead contamination caused by the pipes. In addition to on-site testing, samples can also be sent to an approved laboratory for further analysis.

Where you are seeing levels of lead above 5 µg/L, this should be reported to the local authority and access should be limited, particularly where risk of exposure to children is high

What methods are available for lead testing?

To measure the levels of lead required to comply with Health Canada’s guidelines, only four methods are suitable: Atomic Absorption Spectroscopy (AAS), inductively coupled plasma mass spectrometry (ICP-MS), inductively coupled plasma atomic emission spectrometry (ICP-AES) and disposable sensor anodic stripping voltammetry (DS-ASV).

AAS, ICP-MS and ICP-AES are performed in a laboratory and require the use of technical laboratory specialists. DS-ASV is often also found in the laboratory but testing can also be performed on-site at the time of sampling, and without the use of a qualified technician. Other commercial test kits are available, but these test kits are either not EPA approved, the measurement procedure in use is not suitable for measuring samples below 5 µg/L, or the testing protocol requires complex calibration procedures which make it unsuitable for untrained technicians.

Palintest’s sensor technology uses DS-ASV, providing results for lead contamination down to 2 µg/L. Utilised in the market for more than 20 years, our measurement instrument has now been upgraded to make testing even easier, particularly for users who are not laboratory trained. This EPA approved technology, is suitable for use both in a laboratory or in the field, delivering results on lead contamination in 3 minutes, enabling rapid action to stop ingestion of lead-contaminated drinking water.

The Palintest USA team visited Canada to train 250 people on how to use our Kemio™ Heavy Metals to identify drinking water contaminated with lead in local schools. Kemio will detect lead contamination in 3 minutes, enabling schools to immediately close off any affected supplies. This will help protect the lives of thousands of children, read the full article here.

But crucially how do these results compare with laboratory-based methods, and how should each be used? 

In this report, we’ve analysed data from Graphite Furnace Atomic Absorption Spectroscopy (GF-AAS), inductively coupled plasma mass spectrometry (ICP-MS) and disposable anodic stripping voltammetry (DS-ASV). Our results found that both ICP-MS and GF-AAS have a good correlation to DS-ASV testing when comparing like for like samples and lead species in drinking water samples.

Our report summarises that disposable sensor technology eliminates complex maintenance and calibration requirements and can be used for both laboratory and field measurements, enabling rapid and low-cost testing without the need for highly qualified operators.

When used in the field as a screening tool, DS-ASV without digestion can complement laboratory testing, reducing the number of samples needing to go to the lab; allowing more fixtures to be screened in a time and cost-efficient manner. For laboratories receiving increasing lead testing demand, DS-ASV can add substantial analytical capacity without the need for significant capital investment.

To read the full report, view the report here. 

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