Canadians in their hundreds of thousands have been unwittingly exposed to high levels of lead in their drinking water.
According to a yearlong investigation conducted by more than 120 journalists, contamination in several cities was consistently higher than it ever was in Flint, Michigan, where lead-contaminated water sparked a public health crisis. No specific cities were named in the report.
The media consortium that conducted the investigation, which included reporters from The Associated Press and the Institute for Investigative Journalism at Concordia University in Montreal, measured lead exposure in 11 cities across Canada. Out of 12,000 tests conducted since 2014, the group found that 33 percent exceeded Canada's national safety guideline of 5 parts per billion; 18 percent exceeded the US limit of 15 ppb.
"I'm surprised," leading Canadian water safety researcher Bruce Lanphear said. "These are quite high given the kind of attention that has been given to Flint, Michigan, as having such extreme problems."
Canada is one of the only developed countries in the world that does not have a nationwide drinking water standard. Even countries that struggle to provide safe drinking water have established acceptable lead levels: India's is 10 ppb and Mexico and Egypt's are 5 ppb, according to those nations' government websites.
Sarah Rana, 18, was one of tens of thousands of students who weren't alerted when her high school found lead levels above national guidelines in dozens of water samples, the highest at 140 ppb. She found out on her own after looking at reports online.
"I was getting poisoned for four years and did not know about it," she said. "As a student, I think I should be told."