THUNDER BAY — Months after the City of Thunder Bay announced it would phase out the use of sodium hydroxide in the water supply after receiving reports of pinhole leaks in copper water pipes, the problem persists.
Sources in the local plumbing business say they continue to receive daily calls to fix leaks.
Some residents have had to have sections of water pipes replaced as many as seven times.
"It's unbelievable," a spokesperson at one of the city's larger plumbing companies said about the extent of the problem, during an interview Monday.
The risk of a leak – and water damage – is so high that the company advises homeowners to keep a patch kit handy in case an emergency repair is needed.
"People should all have a little package at their house. A piece of pipe, a pipe-cutter, and two SharkBite [push-to-connect] fittings so they can fix it," the spokesperson recommended, adding "It's not a hard fix. It just takes a little education."
A special, self-fusing tape is also available to provide a temporary repair if a plumber isn't available on short notice or if a homeowner doesn't have the necessary skills to do a more complex repair.
Most leaks seem to be occurring in 1/2 inch copper pipe, but 3/4 inch pipe is not immune to the problem.
Northwood resident Jack Roussel contacted Tbnewswatch after experiencing three pinhole leaks in his 1/2 inch main water line, over a period of less than three weeks.
The first time it happened, he said, "I came in the basement. There was a big mess of water."
Another leak developed last Wednesday, and a third leak occurred this past weekend.
"I went in the basement, and there it was again. That pipe was really leaking," he said.
Roussel is lucky he has DIY skills.
An emergency, after-hours visit from a plumber can cost $200 an hour.
COVID-19 has also restricted the availability of plumbers, as some companies don't always have staff available due to personal concerns about their susceptibility to the virus.
Roussel ended up replacing an entire 24-foot section of his main line.
He's also concerned about a brown-coloured coating he noticed on the inside of the pipe when he cut it open.
"It's like a residue...It seems to be adhering to the copper pipe, Roussel said, speculating that "it's eroding it while it's sitting there."
He noted that it's only his own theory, but he feels "it's something that should be looked into."
Roussel said he phoned the city to file a complaint, and was told he would be contacted for an assessment.
On Tuesday, the city contacted him and offered to have the substance examined.
Tbnewswatch contacted a city official late Monday morning for comment, but has not yet received a reply.
On April 21, the city completed the phase-out of sodium hydroxide as a means of reducing lead levels in tap water in older homes around Thunder Bay.
Since then, water coming out of the tap has become more acidic as it returns to the same pH level that existed in 2017, before sodium hydroxide was introduced.
To mitigate the consequent increase in lead levels, the city has provided water pitchers equipped with filters to remove lead from the tap water of 8,700 homes.
In the interim, it continues to investigate alternative ways to reduce lead levels as part of its corrosion control program.
Michelle Warywoda, director of the Environment Division, said administration will present a report to council next week outlining details of a financial assistance program to help property-owners replace the lead service connections to their homes.
The city also recently distributed an information brochure regarding lead and drinking water in a mailout with customers' water bills.